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His name is Thembinkosi Fanwell Ngwenya. He's 18. And when you look at his portrait, he seems to be looking right back at you.

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"This year there's been one big home run and a lot of scratch singles." That's how Red Sox fan and editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, sums up the year-that-was in public health.

A Village Christmas Story: No Gifts But Lots Of Joy

Dec 23, 2016

Last Christmas, my daughter, Iza, and I woke up to many presents under the Christmas tree. As we enjoyed our breakfast of omelets, sausages, cheese, fresh bread and fruit salad, I thought back to my childhood Christmases. I grew up as the sixth of 10 children in a village in rural Zimbabwe. We didn't have much, but I didn't feel that I was poor. My childhood story is still typical of many rural kids living in developing countries.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When Ebola struck West Africa a few years ago, the world was defenseless. There was no cure. No vaccine. And the result was catastrophic: More than 11,000 people died. Nearly 30,000 were infected.

Now it looks like such a large outbreak is unlikely to ever happen again. Ever.

The world now has a potent weapon against Ebola: a vaccine that brings outbreaks to a screeching halt, scientists report Thursday in The Lancet.

There was no shortage of sad news in 2016.

And because we're a blog that covers global health and development, we covered a lot of those sobering stories: the toll of diseases like Zika, the bombing of hospitals in conflict zones, the suffering caused by poverty and by discrimination against women.

But we published a lot of hopeful stories as well. We asked our team at Goats and Soda to pick some of the stories from this year that inspired them the most. We hope you're inspired too.

A 15-year-old girl died in a menstrual hut in western Nepal sometime between the night of Saturday, Dec. 17, and the morning of Sunday, Dec. 18. According to Nepal's Republica newspaper, Roshani Tiruwa, from Nepal's Achham district, went to the shed after eating dinner around 6 p.m. She lit a fire in the tiny mud hut before going to sleep. Tiruwa's father found her body the next morning. District police suspect the ninth-grader died from a lack of oxygen.

A lesson in leadership illustrated by images of men only. A fill-in-the-blanks test whose "correct" answer is a stereotype: "I am a Filipino. I am a domestic helper in Hong Kong." A discussion of global warming that highlights potential "positive effects" of climate change, such as "Places that are too cold for farming today could become farmland."

These are some examples from textbooks around the world included in a newly released study about the role of textbooks by the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report.

By now, you've very likely heard the case for limiting sugar.

Over the past two years the World Health Organization and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines have begun urging us to consume no more than 10 percent of our daily calories from added sugar. Drinking more than one sugar-sweetened soda a day can put you over that limit.

Sunday was a bad day for a certain goat in Pakistan.

Employees of Pakistan's national airline took a black goat to the tarmac, near an ATR-42 aircraft that was ready to depart on a domestic flight from the Islamabad airport, and sacrificed the animal.

"PIA lampooned for bizarre goat slaughter," read the headline in Pakistan's Express Tribune.

How Is The World Treating People With Disabilities?

Dec 18, 2016

In the ten years since the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by 168 countries, there has been both progress and stubborn obstacles.

Barbara Massaad was watching a TV news program about the plight of Syrian refugees from her apartment in the suburbs of Beirut when she decided to visit a refugee camp herself.

"I just wanted to go and see what was happening," she told me. "So I went and started taking photographs and talking to people about food."

Before my family bought a television set, it was radio that I stayed glued to. I must have been 10 years old, or maybe 9. My grandfather, uncle and I would sit close to a massive analogue radio. One of them delicately held the dial between the thumb and the index finger, fine-tuning, ear close to the speaker, listening carefully for a clear sentence of English amid the sizzle and the crackle of radio signals. A clear signal that lasted for barely a minute put a huge smile on our faces.

Over the last week, South Sudanese authorities expelled two top officials from the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the largest international aid groups working in the country.

"It's hugely concerning ... in part because we truly don't know why," says Joel Charny, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council's U.S. office. "For no reason whatsoever, our country director is detained for nearly 24 hours and then asked to leave. Now an area manager is asked to leave. It's puzzling because we don't know what we've done wrong."

It's a problem around the world: People who need mental health care don't get it.

A new kind of treatment strategy in India — delivered by nonprofessionals — offers a potential solution. And it's one that could be adopted in other countries, including the U.S.

In India, providing mental health care is a special challenge. Many people, especially in rural areas, don't understand much about mental health or mental illness.

Over the past week, we asked our audience to help Goats and Soda come up with one of our first stories of 2017.

We asked: Is there a topic in the field of global health and development that you think we didn't pay enough attention to last year and that will loom large in the year ahead? Is there a small but important trend afoot?

Earlier this month, we received more than 100 questions on everything from deforestation to leprosy to human population. We put three of them up for vote. More than 300 people voted, and this question was the winner:

It sounds like the plot of a movie.

Police discover a body in a warehouse. It's a young man who's been stabbed multiple times. They swab the body — and it tests positive for a deadly infectious disease.

Investigators realize the people who killed him — members of a street gang — may now be spreading the virus without knowing it.

This actually happened in the West African nation of Liberia in 2015. The deadly disease was Ebola.

Aleppo is under attack. Civilians trapped in the siege in Syria — including children from an orphanage — are turning to social media with a message to the world: End the violence.

In the video, a group of about two dozen children in sweaters and knit caps stand in three rows, as if to sing a Christmas carol or recite a poem. Instead, they have a message for "those concerned with human rights and the rights of children."

It's a cold, damp fall day in London. But in a windowless basement laboratory, it feels like the tropics. It's hot and humid. That's to keep the mosquitoes happy.

"In this cage, we have the adult mosquitoes," says Andrew Hammond, a genetic engineer at Imperial College London, as he picks up a container made out of white mosquito netting.

The lab is buzzing with hundreds of mosquitoes. "Everything in this cubicle is genetically modified," Hammond says, pointing to the container of mosquitoes.

Could vaccinating cattle get more girls into high school?

That's the intriguing prospect suggested by a new study of Kenyan cattle herding families in the journal Science Advances. But even more significant than the actual results of the study is the fact the researchers would even think to investigate whether there's a link between cattle vaccination rates and girls' high school attendance.

One big question about the Zika virus has been how big a risk the virus might pose in the United States.

Studies earlier this year suggested that birth defects and other problems were mainly limited to babies born in some parts of Brazil.

A study out Tuesday provides a sense of the effects on women who were exposed while pregnant in other countries and then came to the United States. About 6 percent of those pregnancies resulted in defects in the fetus or baby.

Is Wonder Woman being forced into early retirement?

It's come to light this week that the comic superhero's controversial tenure as the United Nations' honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls will be coming to a close this Friday.

Great ideas are a dime a dozen. The question is: How do you get 'em to stick?

Breaking The Taboo Of Talking About Periods

Dec 11, 2016

Menstruation is hardly the stuff of poetry. In fact, in India, if periods are talked about at all, it's in whispered code, and never with someone of the opposite gender.

Bacteria are way smarter than we give them credit for.

No, I'm not talking about "brain smarts." Bacteria don't have neurons.

I'm referring to "chemical smarts": the ability to make, break down or gobble up whatever compound they want. Even if they've never been exposed to it before.

Scientists have found a superbug — hidden 1,000 feet underground in a cave — which is resistant to 70 percent of antibiotics and can totally inactivate many of them.

If you live in Kenya there's a jingle you hear on television and radio a lot.

The number of new cancer cases grew worldwide to 17.5 million in 2015 from 13.1 million in 2005. And the fastest growth is in some of the world's poorest countries, according to a report on the global burden of cancer in the Dec. 3 journal JAMA Oncology.

Alsarah was born in Sudan to politically active parents. When she was still a child a coup there forced the family to flee to Yemen. Then, after civil war broke out in Yemen, they had to flee again, this time to Amherst, Massachusetts — all by the time Alsarah was 12. But please, says the singer-songwriter, don't pigeonhole her as some sort of "refugee artist."

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