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Health

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The surprise find of smallpox DNA in a child mummy from the 17th century could help scientists start to trace the mysterious history of this notorious virus.

Smallpox currently only exists in secure freezers, after a global vaccination campaign eradicated the virus in the late 1970s. But much about this killer remains unknown, including its origins.

In Bangladesh, a new report finds, impoverished children are working long hours in violation of that country's labor laws. Children under the age of 14 who've given up school for jobs are toiling an average 64 hours a week, according to a British think tank.

In the quest to help the poor, it's difficult to know whose needs are the greatest. Without clear data, it's tough to know who to help first.

The traditional way to look for the poorest of the poor is with household surveys. That's the primary source of data for policy decisions, but it has drawbacks.

It's a policy battle that has been playing out over three decades.

In 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan imposed an anti-abortion rule — known as the "Mexico City policy" after the city where he announced it. The rule blocked federal funding for international family planning charities unless they agreed not to "promote" abortion by, among other actions, providing patients with information about the procedure or referrals to providers who perform it.

It may sound like the plot of a movie: police find a young man dead with stab wounds. Tests quickly show he'd had Ebola.

Officials realize the suspects in the case, men in a local gang, may have picked up and spread Ebola across the slum. These men are reluctant to quarantine themselves and some – including a man nicknamed "Time Bomb" – cannot even be found.

This scenario actually unfolded in the West African nation of Liberia in 2015. And what followed was a truly unconventional effort by epidemiologists to stop a new Ebola outbreak.

The people of southern Madagascar are on the brink of a famine and need immediate humanitarian aid, according to United Nations food agencies. A three-year drought, exacerbated by this year's El Niño, has caused harvests to continue to fail. And people are left with no money and almost nothing to eat.

Pandemic flu, Ebola, Nipah virus. Emmie de Wit has held all of them in her hands (with three layers of gloves in between, of course).

She's a virologist working at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana. The 450-person facility, which is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is nestled in a town of 4,000. It's surrounded by mountains and national forests. Only one road passes through.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

On Nov. 23, a morning talk show on Morocco's state television aired a segment on using makeup to conceal bruises from domestic violence. It was part of a promotional effort for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, coming up two days later.

The reaction was swift and negative. The TV station apologized.

For six years, Haitian activists have demanded that the United Nations accept responsibility for cholera in Haiti.

Yet many seemed almost shocked on Thursday by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's apology for the U.N.'s role in the outbreak. Shocked — and pleased.

"I lost more than 80 percent of my university friends," recalls Jagannath Lamichhane.

After silently struggling with depression for two decades, Lamichhane published an essay in Nepal Times about his mental illness. "I could have hid my problem — like millions of people around the world," he says, but "if we hide our mental health, it may remain a problem forever."

Each year, the United States gives $5 billion to $6 billion to fight HIV/AIDS around the world, with particular emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for two-thirds of the nearly 2 million new infections each year.

For World AIDS Day, we sat down with the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator, Deborah Birx, to talk about the state of the epidemic and the work of PEPFAR, set up by President George W. Bush in 2003 with the intention of saving the lives of people suffering from AIDS around the world.

It started with a poster he made at Kinko's and displayed at his wedding in May 2007: Would guests donate to help start a new kind of health care program in Liberia?

He got $6,000.

Now he's won a million dollar prize for his efforts.

While the HIV/AIDS epidemic no longer looks as menacing as it did in the 1980s and '90s, efforts to stop the spread of the disease have hit a brick wall.

The other contestants in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant wore revealing swimsuits.

She came out in a burkini — head-to-toe swimwear — and a hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering.

Halima Aden, a 19-year-old Muslim from St. Cloud, Minn., wanted to compete on her terms. She wasn't sure how the pageant would react to her request to wear a burkini. "I prepared myself to hear 'no,' " she says. "But I was hoping they'd say 'yes.' So when they did allow me to wear a burkini, I was so thrilled."

It's the fifth annual #Giving Tuesday — a holiday marketing tradition inspired by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, but with a twist. Today thousands of charities are asking us to open our wallets. But how can we be sure the group we donate to is effective — that we're getting the most bang for our charity buck?

When the last remaining hospital in besieged eastern Aleppo crumbled under a wave of artillery strikes on Nov. 18, one of the casualties was 25-year-old nurse Kefah.

"The last time he called me was one night before he was killed," says Dr. A.M. — an intensive care specialist based in Detroit who, for the past four years, has been providing training and support via Skype and WhatsApp to medical staff in Aleppo. He asked that we only use his initials because the Syrian government has persecuted doctors — and their families — for treating rebels.

On Nov. 18, Dambara Upadhyay slept in a hut outside her house.

It's a common practice in some villages in western Nepal — women who are menstruating sleep in a small hut or shed out of a fear they will contaminate the home or anger the Hindu gods if they remain indoors. Many people in this part of the country believe family members or livestock will get sick, or even die, if a menstruating woman doesn't stick to the rules.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

PHOTOS: Your Bedroom Says A Lot About You

Nov 27, 2016

Your posters. The color of your walls. The size of your bed. Where you sleep says a lot about who you are.

That's the idea behind photographer and filmmaker John Thackwray's photo series My Room Project.

In 11th grade, some students in India read a story that's not your typical textbook fare.

It's about a girl whose marriage was arranged when she was just one year old.

When she turned 18, her parents ordered her to leave home and join her husband.

Only she went to court to protest.

A man who was paid to have sex with more than 100 young girls and women in Malawi is receiving two years of hard labor as punishment.

Working as what Malawians call a "hyena man," Eric Aniva had sex with children and widows as part of a custom believed to offer ritual cleansing after a first period or widowhood. Though he is HIV-positive, Aniva did not wear condoms during sex. Now some women's organizations in Malawi are calling his sentence inadequate.

I celebrated my first Thanksgiving in 2002. I'd arrived in the United States in August of that year to start graduate school at the University of Missouri, Columbia. A few months later, I was invited to my first Thanksgiving dinner at a house shared by two Indians, one American, two New Zealanders and their sweet black Labrador, named Willow.

Do you know any global health stories that should be getting coverage — but are overlooked by the media?

The sweet potato has a secret identity.

It's not just the food upon which marshmallows are heaped and maple syrup is poured to celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving.

It is also a staple of the African diet. And Africans who eat it feel passionately about it. For some, it kindles warm memories. For some, it's a neglected food that deserves a higher profile because of its nutritional value.

And some people can't stand it!

Have bed nets lost their power to protect people from malaria-carrying mosquitoes?

That's the subject of debate among researchers looking for ways to cut down on malaria cases and deaths.

Over the past two decades, the insecticide-treated bed net has been one of the most powerful tools against malaria.

Japan has the dubious title of the oldest society in the world, with one in four of its citizens past the age of 65. And while the image of the elderly is typically of sweet grandparents, in Japan, senior citizens are committing petty crimes like shoplifting in bigger numbers than teenagers.

Inside the office of a private security firm in Tokyo are video monitors that take up the entire wall, bisected into 16 boxes showing various camera angles on a nearby business.

Editor's note: Updated Nov. 21 at 11:15 a.m. with a comment from Nissan.

A video shows two cars crashing head-on at 35 miles per hour. (Don't worry, the drivers are crash test dummies.) One car is red, one is silver.

She has a skin color that you don't often see in films, fashion or magazines.

Khoudia Diop, a 19-year-old student and model from Senegal, has a hard time coming up with words to describe it. It's so dark, she says, it almost seems blue.

It's what shot her to the social media stratosphere recently. In August, she posed in a photo campaign with black women of all shades for The Colored Girl, a group that challenges society's beauty standards.

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