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Health Check


The BBC World Service's weekly round up of global health stories and topical issues in medicine.

The BBC World Service's weekly round up of global health stories and topical issues in medicine.
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The BBC World Service's weekly round up of global health stories and topical issues in medicine.




World’s First Baby Born After Deceased Womb Transplant

A 32 year old woman, who was born without a womb, has given birth to a healthy baby girl following a womb transplant from a dead woman. The 10-hour transplant operation, and later fertility treatment, took place in São Paulo, Brazil, in 2016. Previously there have been 39 womb transplants using a live donor, including mothers donating their womb to their daughter, resulting in 11 babies. But the 10 previous transplants from a dead donor have failed or resulted in miscarriage. The BBC’s James...


A Tribal Study Shedding Light on Blood Pressure

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health were interested in learning more about what makes blood pressure tend to rise as we get older, and whether this still happens on a diet with very little salt. So they decided to study two remote tribes in Venezuela, one of which has Western influences on their diet because of the presence of an air strip near it. For the first time they also measured the children's blood pressure. Epidemiologist Noel Mueller is one of the...


The Health Impact of Smoke from Californian Wildfires

As well as the immediate danger from the Californian wildfire flames, areas close by have been shrouded in smoke, with air pollution as much as ten times higher than even on the most polluted days when there are no fires. John Balmes, Professor of Medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, has conducted research in Malawi looking at the effect this smoke could have on people's health in the long-term. He speaks to Health Check about this long-term damage, and the short-term...


London Knife Crime

London is on course for the highest number of killings in a decade after the total this year surpassed the figure for the whole of 2017. Most of the victims are teenage boys or young men living in deprived areas, stabbed by other teenage boys or young men. The Royal London Hospital specialises in this kind of injury and one of their surgeons, Paul Vulliamy believes that we need to approach knife crime as a public health issue. He has been examining a decade’s worth of data to try to...


Melanoma Death Rates Higher in Men Than Women

The rate of men dying from the form of skin cancer called melanoma has risen over the last 30 years – whilst the rates for women are slowing down or falling. The data from 33 countries might indicate that public health campaigns need to be carefully targeted at men, to encourage sun-smart behaviours and to visit their doctor if they develop a suspicious-looking mole. Future research will also look at whether melanoma is more deadly in men than women. Delhi banned fireworks during the holy...


What’s Behind a Spike of AFM Cases in the US?

AFM, or Acute Flaccid Myelitis, is a rare disorder of the spinal cord, mostly affecting young children. It manifests with really rapid onset of paralysis typically affecting the limbs, and in severe cases, the muscles needed for breathing and swallowing. Recently there been a spike of the disease in the United States, which has had over 190 suspected cases this year. As explained by Dr Olwen Murphy, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, it is thought to be triggered...


Stemming the Ebola Outbreak in the DRC

The WHO are deeply concerned by the Ebola outbreak in the DRC and have emphasised that response activities need to be intensified and ongoing vigilance is critical. But the security situation is complex and ongoing armed conflict is continuing to hamper containment efforts. Increasingly Ebola response teams are having trouble keeping track of where the virus is spreading and more than half of the recently detected cases have not been on any lists of contacts. Dr Javier Tena Rubio is...


What’s the Irish CervicalCheck Crisis All About?

A few days ago saw the death of Emma Mhic Mhathuna, one of the most prominent campaigners affected by the CervicalCheck cancer smear test scandal in Ireland. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 after receiving two incorrect smear test results. This crisis in the national screening programme has delayed treatment for at least 221 patients with cervical cancer and the number of women implicated will undoubtedly increase. Fergal Bowers, RTE’s Health Correspondent, explains the...


Acanthamoeba Keratitis

Experts at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London have collected data from patients affected by a devastating eye condition called Acanthamoeba Keratitis. It is caused by an amoeba and although rare, it can affect eyesight and even lead to blindness. It is a waterborne pathogen and their advice is that people who wear contact lenses should take them out before going swimming, having a shower or even washing their faces. Professor John Dart is senior author of the research, which has just been...


The World’s Biggest Loneliness Experiment

The idea that loneliness mainly strikes older people has been challenged by the biggest ever study on the topic. Across the world 55,000 people completed the Loneliness Experiment devised by the British universities of Manchester, Brunel and Exeter. People from 237 different countries, islands and territories took part in the study. In cultures where independence is valued – like the UK and US - people are less likely to tell a colleague about their loneliness. In countries like Italy the...


India Health: Will Modicare be a Success?

Modicare - the ambitious new health funding system named after the Indian Prime Minister – was launched this week. Taxes on the middle and upper classes will fund the world’s biggest government-funded health care project – paying for hospital treatment for the country’s 100 million poorest families. It will cost $1.7 billion and the very first patients received hospital treatment under the ambitious scheme on Sunday. The Netherlands might be a small country but its people have grown rapidly...


50 Years Since First Heart Transplant

The first ever heart transplant took place in Cape Town in South Africa fifty years ago this week. That patient died after just 18 days – but today around five thousand people have heart transplants every year. A shortage of donor hearts means there is often a wait – and an artificial pump called an L-VAD can buy time. We hear from doctors and a patient about the advances in technology which have made the pumps easier to live with. The World Health Organization says that more than 200...


Every Step You Take Counts

Millions of people wear electronic step-counting bracelets or use apps on their phones – aiming for ten thousand steps a day. Claudia Hammond asks whether this routine motivates her – or if it’s actually setting her up for failure. Some experts applaud the bar charts and graphs which track progress as proof of healthy activity. But can the constant checking take away the pleasure of exercise? American scientists found that after the novelty wore off people did less because the competitive...


Could Cholesterol-lowering Drugs Fight Pneumonia?

Thousands of people around the world take a statin pill every day – to lower their cholesterol levels and help reduce their risk of stroke and heart attacks. In some people they cause side-effects – but they might also have a hidden benefit - helping older people fight the serious respiratory infection pneumonia. A British researcher describes her delight when she saw that statins boosted the immune systems of older people – which could help them fight deadly pneumonia. Following the biggest...


When The Brain Wakes Up – But The Body Doesn’t

“When your brain wakes up but your body doesn’t” is how a sleep expert describes the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Around 1 in 20 people will experience vivid hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up whilst being completely unable to move. Sleeping on your back can help to reduce the risk of an attack. Even less well understood is 'Exploding Head Syndrome' where people experience abrupt and very loud noises when going to sleep or waking up. To mark the 150th anniversary of Marie...


The 'Hidden' Virus That Attacks the Liver

Four out five patients with Hepatitis C do not know they are infected – and the virus can cause cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, leading to 1.3 million deaths every year. The World Health Organisation wants to eliminate hepatitis by 2030 – but only a handful of countries like Egypt and Australia are on track. The World Hepatitis Summit has been taking place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to explore the best ways to detect and treat those infected. Could boxing training help people with Parkinson’s...


Eye Diseases in Ebola Survivors

Around a quarter of survivors of the Ebola outbreak that started back in 2014 in West Africa have developed eye problems, including uveitis and cataracts. Dr Jessica Shantha and Dr Steven Yeh, both assistant professors of ophthalmology at Emory University in Atlanta US talked to Claudia Hammond about how they’ve been studying and treating the conditions. Loneliness is a huge problem amongst carers. Connecting via social media is a solution for some, but not everyone is comfortable with the...


Profound Psychological Impact of Heart Failure

Heart Failure This serious condition – where the heart can no longer pump sufficient blood around the body - affects 26 million people around the world. Symptoms can include breathlessness, fluid retention and tiredness - enough to have a severe impact on the quality of life. A heart failure diagnosis can be frightening and stressful but there is good evidence that psychological support can help. Claudia Hammond hears from patients and medical staff about the challenges of dealing with the...


The Game Encouraging Medics to not use Jargon

When you visit the doctor how much do you understand what’s being said? Communicating complex medical information – especially to sick children – can be a challenge for medical staff. Now a game called Dr Jargon has been created to encourage doctors to use simple language to explain common complaints to patients. The scientist who’s designed a way to “sniff out” polio viruses in the Israeli sewage system. For a number of years the world has been on the verge of eradicating the disease which...


Who is Best Suited to a Move to the Red Planet?

As we dream of sending humans to Mars, the psychological problems of such a mission loom large. Claudia Hammond ponders the most important qualities required from those who’d like to colonise Mars. Surviving a cramped nine-month journey and the pod-like homes on the red planet requires a mix of resilience, curiosity and the ability to get on with others. She meets the volunteers who have been sampling similar long term simulations here on earth - and the psychologists who've overseen the...