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Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.


London, United Kingdom




Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.




The deadly practice of gum lancing

Gum lancing is a tradition practiced on babies in some parts of the world. It’s done with good intentions, and involves extracting the teeth of infants with symptoms such as a fever or diarrhoea in the belief it will cure them. It can be fatal though, with tooth buds sometimes being removed using unsafe, unsterile instruments such as nails, and without anaesthesia. We hear from a family in Kenya who lost children that underwent the procedure, a dentist raising awareness of its dangers in the country, and Claudia Hammond speaks to dental public health expert Dr Kristina Wanyonyi-Kay to find out more about the practice. Claudia is also joined by BBC health reporter Smitha Mundasad to discuss new research on the Covid drug molnupiravir, suggesting it could be leading to new mutations of the virus passing between people. We also hear from a listener who wants to know if eye exercises can stop our sight deteriorating as we get older, and from an ophthalmologist with the answer. And how scientists have discovered specific wiring in the brains of mice that leads them to begin nesting when they’re getting ready to sleep. Claudia and Smitha look at what this could tell us about our own bedtime preparations. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Dan Welsh Content editor: Erika Wright Additional production: Dr Kristina Wanyonyi-Kay


Could global Aids program be cut?

The PEPFAR scheme was launched by George W Bush in 2003 to provide HIV and Aids relief around the world. Officials say it has since saved more than 25 million lives in 55 different countries. Now, though, its future could be under threat. With its funding due to expire at the end of September, some US Republicans are pushing for it not to be renewed because of alleged links to services providing abortions. Claudia Hammond is joined by professor of epidemiology at Boston University, Matt Fox, to look at what the outcome could mean for global Aids provision. We also hear from scientists in Nigeria and the US about the groundbreaking discovery of a gene variant in people of African ancestry that increases the risk of Parkinson’s Disease. Claudia and Matt also look at a new study suggesting a minority of people who are sceptical of vaccines are less likely to get their dogs inoculated. We hear from researchers in Germany looking at whether getting people to exercise while undergoing chemotherapy could improve their outcomes. And just how good is turmeric at treating indigestion? Claudia looks at a new study into the spice from Thailand. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Dan Welsh


Do men have a friendship problem?

The author Max Dickins was preparing to propose to his girlfriend when he came to a realisation: he didn’t have anyone he felt he could ask to be his best man. It prompted him to write the book ‘Billy No-Mates’, looking at why he didn’t have any close male friends any more, and asking if men, in general, have a friendship problem. In a special discussion in front of a live audience at the Cheltenham Science Festival in England, Claudia Hammond speaks to Max about his journey. They’re also joined by Robin Dunbar, a Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford University who’s spent decades researching friendships in humans and other primates, and Radha Modgil, a practicing GP and wellbeing expert whose book ‘Know Your Own Power’ looks at what advice there is for people facing difficulties as they go through life. The panel look at what psychology can teach us about friendships between men, the difference these relationships can make to our mental health, and the best way of both maintaining the friendships we have and finding ways to make new friends. Produced in partnership with the Open University. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Dan Welsh


Opioid overdose antidote made available in US

With deaths from opioid overdoses rocketing to more than 100,000 people each year, the US has moved to make the drug Naloxone available to buy in pharmacies for the first time there this week. The nasal spray treatment can revive people who have overdosed within minutes. Claudia Hammond is joined by Dr Ann Robinson to hear how the drug works, and what lessons the US can learn from how other countries around the world are using it. We also hear from the first polar research team to try to tackle taboos over menstruation by training the next generation of Arctic and Antarctic scientists how to deal with having your period during an expedition. Claudia and Ann look at new research suggesting the morning after pill becomes more effective when taken with anti-inflammatory drugs. And we find out whether opposites do truly attract, as a new study on romantic relationships uncovers what happy couples do and don’t have in common. Image Credit: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Dan Welsh


What happened to babies with Zika virus

In March 2015, Brazil reported a large outbreak of the Zika virus infection. Over the next year, the disease became a global medical emergency. Thousands of babies were born brain-damaged, after their mothers became infected while pregnant. As the World Health Organisation discusses the current global Zika situation and the lessons learned from the outbreak, Claudia Hammond is joined by Dr Graham Easton to hear from the families affected in Brazil and ask what life is now like for the babies who were born with complications. We also hear about new recommendations for how communities around the world can better prevent Sudden Cardiac Death, as well as research on whether how far away you are from a defibrillator is related to how deprived your area is. Claudia speaks to a psychiatric nurse and the woman who says she saved her life by going above and beyond the call of duty. And we hear about the world first from Australia, where scientists discovered a living worm in the brain of a woman who’d been experiencing stomach pain and night sweats. Image Credit: Joao Paulo Burini Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Dan Welsh


Disgraced surgeon appeals prison sentence

When former transplant surgeon Paolo Macchiarini first implanted a synthetic trachea into a patient more than a decade ago, it was hailed as a breakthrough. But the person he operated on died, as did subsequent patients. And in 2013, Macchiarini was reported to Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, where he had carried out the operations, for scientific misconduct. Over the years, Health Check has followed the story and in this programme we hear the latest as Macchiarini appeals against a prison sentence in Sweden for gross assault. Claudia Hammond is joined by BBC health and science correspondent James Gallagher who has been finding out whether eating his meals quickly or slowly is better for his health. And he brings us news from the USA of one of the first functional kidney transplants from a pig into a human. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Dan Welsh


Contaminated cough syrup found in Iraq

Iraq is the latest country to report a batch of contaminated cough syrup according to the World Health Organisation. It’s the latest in a string of health alerts issued by WHO in the last 12 months. According to reports, 300 children died worldwide last year by taking contaminated cough syrups. BBC health reporter Philippa Roxby joins Claudia Hammond to discuss this and the latest health research. When the Ugandan government passed tough anti LGBTQ legislation in May, health experts claimed it would have a devastating effect on HIV healthcare services. We hear from a clinic in Kampala where people living with HIV are scared to collect their medicine. And Claudia speaks to Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at University of California Berkeley in the USA, Bob Knight. His team are trying to improve technology for people who struggle with speech by decoding brain signals. All with a bit of help from classic rock music. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury


A closer look at leprosy

In the week that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that leprosy could now be endemic in the South-eastern United States, Claudia Hammond looks at global action on leprosy with science journalist Kamala Thiagarajan. There is an international effort to learn more about weaning seriously ill people off ventilator support in hospitals. We hear about the Weansafe study from Ireland. Professor of integrated community child health at University College London, Monica Lakhanpaul joins Claudia in the studio to discuss why the roll out of a new vaccine for RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) in the US could be a gamechanger. And why on your next trip to a hospital, you could see groups of elderly in-patients going on walks. Could it help prevent the effects of bedrest? Image: Leprosy, nerve biopsy, nerve fibres surrounded by histiocytes Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury


Henrietta Lacks’ family settle lawsuit

Henrietta Lacks was only 31 years old when she died from cervical cancer in 1951. While she was in hospital in the USA, her cells were harvested without her knowledge which, since being replicated infinitely, have gone on to enable research into cancer, dementia and Parkinson’s. As well as contributing to the development of vaccines for polio and COVID-19. Her family have fought for decades to get justice for the “stolen” cells, and this week reached a settlement with Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. The United Nations says we now live in the era of "global boiling". As temperatures continue to soar across the southern USA, the BBC’s Health and Science Correspondent James Gallagher heads to a high-tech heated chamber in the UK, on a mission to find out how hot is too hot for our bodies to cope with. In Sweden, dentist Dr Nivetha Natarajan Gavriilidou tells Claudia Hammond about her work using the bone structure of the jaw to predict how we might get shorter as we age. Could it lead to dentists working closer with GPs? It’s a question we also put to our studio guest family doctor Ann Robinson. Who brings us new research from the USA that could lead to better treatment for children’s runny noses. And potentially some good news if you’re struggling to shave seconds off your 5KM PB. Could beating your time be down to your genes? Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury


Playing catch up on childhood immunisations

The World Health Organisation and UNICEF say global immunisation services reached 4 million more children in 2022 compared to the previous year, after a huge backslide during the Covid 19 pandemic. But the progress in countries like India and Indonesia masks continued decline in many lower income countries. Global health expert Tabitha Mwangi and Claudia Hammond discuss how immunisation numbers can bounce back. They also look at new research from Sub-Saharan Africa that suggests as many as one in 10 teenagers might have high blood pressure, and what might be the most effective way of lowering it? While you may be gripped by the action from the Women’s football World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Dr Kerry Peek is keeping a careful eye on the games for health reasons. She’s one of a team of ‘concussion spotters’ deployed this year for the first time at the tournament. Claudia asks her why professional sports women are more at risk from head injuries than men. And are you a perfectionist? Psychologist Dr Thom Curran says striving to be perfect could put our mental health at risk. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producers: Clare Salisbury and Dan Welsh (Photo: A child gets administered the polio vaccine from a health worker in Kabul, Afghanistan, 15 May 2023. Credit: SAMIULLAH POPAL Samiullah Popal/EPA)


A new era for Alzheimer’s drugs?

Just months after the ‘momentous’ announcement of the first drug shown to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, the results of a global trial into another have been published. The antibody medicine donanemab helped people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s by slowing the pace of the brain’s decline by about a third. Dr Graham Easton joins Claudia Hammond to look at what another ‘breakthrough’ means in practice. They also look at new evidence from the USA that giving hearing aids to older people at risk from dementia could be another way to slow cognitive decline in some people. While caring for women in childbirth, midwives are expected to be compassionate. Claudia hears from Dr Halima Musa Abdul, Senior Lecturer in Nursing Science at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, and to Dr Kaveri Mayra, who trained in India and is now a researcher at the University of British Columbia. They say that particularly in lower and middle income countries, midwives aren’t being shown enough compassion at work themselves. And we hear from Germany where a portable brain scanner could provide a solution for people in hard-to-reach health clinics. Image Credit: Andrew Brookes Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury & Dan Welsh


Sickle cell disease: Fighting for the future

“Sickle cell is not all that we are – Sickle Cell is solvable.” Lea Kilenga Bey from Kenya founded the non-profit Africa Sickle Cell Organisation to campaign on behalf of people like her who live with an inherited blood condition known as sickle cell disease. Now a group of experts from around the world are calling on Governments to provide better care for people with conditions like Lea’s. It comes just weeks after a study published in academic journal The Lancet Haematology showed that the number of people around the world who die with sickle cell disease could be as much as 11 times higher than previously estimated. Claudia Hammond speaks to Lea and hears from Professor Jennifer Knight-Madden in Jamaica where pioneering research has led to a newborn screening programme that helps to diagnose and treat Sickle Cell Disease in babies. Side by Side is a pilot initiative led by the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, pairing up volunteers with people living with dementia based on their common interests. It’s how David met Simon, who learnt he had Alzheimer’s disease during the Covid 19 lockdown. We hear from David, Simon, and Simon’s wife Ruth about the pair’s weekly walks and how they have helped Simon come to terms with his diagnosis. And Claudia is joined by Consultant in public health Dr Ike Anya. They discuss new research on living with dementia including a study that suggests resistance training might delay the onset of symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s. There’s an early breakthrough in finding a treatment for parasitic born African Trypanosomiasis or Sleeping Sickness. And the researchers combining health education with street theatre in Malawi. How an interactive performance involving “infectious” beach balls transmitted by a giant Tsetse fly is teaching people about catching Sleeping Sickness. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury Image credit: Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library


Drumming for a healthy life

Since early times, the drum has been part of human society. But have you ever considered how drumming might actually improve our physical and mental health? Researchers from the University of Essex are at this year’s annual Royal Society’s Summer Exhibition in London to talk to the public about their work which shows drumming during a rock concert might give you a similar workout as playing football. Along with the BBC’s health and science correspondent, James Gallagher, Claudia Hammond gets a drumming lesson. They also hear how specially designed audio is being used in virtual reality gaming to train the brains of people with hearing impairments. How micro-robots may provide the future of intricate eye surgery. And how laser technology currently being deployed by the Mars Rover could revolutionise the way we screen our bodies for diseases. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Erika Wright (Photo: Drumming workshop plus drumming teacher Richard Davis)


The future of HIV research in Africa

African HIV research now makes up almost a third of total research being conducted into the virus. A new study highlights how it has increased from just 5 per cent in 1986. But there’s still a way to go until the quantity of research reflects the burden of HIV infections on the African continent. Claudia Hammond speaks to Professor Thumbi Ndung’u and Dr Omolara Baiyegunhi from the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa about the future of research being conducted in Africa by Africans and why it matters. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is now the fastest growing liver disease in Europe. It already affects 38 per cent of people around the world. We hear from Vienna in Austria where a mobile clinic is offering people liver scans, and specialists have been teaching school children about liver health. Dr Ann Robinson joins Claudia in the studio to discuss the latest health research including a US study with good news for people diagnosed early with a skin cancer known as melanoma. And a simple reason why staying up late might mean you won’t live as long as someone who enjoys an early start to the day. And who better to crunch the data on siestas than the President of the Spanish Federation of Sleep Medicine Societies. Dr Carlos Egea explains how the modern siesta is more about taking a short time to relax, rather than a long afternoon sleep. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury Production Coordinator: Jonathan Harris Image credit: Credit:Portra Creative #:675577867


Healthcare under threat in Myanmar

When the Myanmar military staged a coup d’état in February 2021, many healthcare workers became the first government employees to react, announcing a boycott of state-run hospitals. Today, there are doctors, nurses and other health workers providing services across the country, outside of state hospitals and often in secret. Claudia Hammond hears how they are struggling to provide clinics with dwindling resources and equipment and about the impact it’s having on people’s health. We hear from Salvador in Brazil where a joint effort between local people, the Federal University of Bahia and the University of Liverpool is aiming to track rats to try to control the spread of the bacterial disease Leptospirosis. And Professor of Integrated Community Child Health at University College London, Monica Lakhanpaul brings us new research to discuss on the effects of polluted water on babies, why taking a short nap might be good for brain health. And an early study that suggests the painful condition Endometriosis, where tissue from the lining of the uterus moves to other organs in the body, might be caused by bacteria. If the link exists, could it provide hope for new treatments? Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury Assistant Producer: Jonathan Blackwell Production Coordinator: Jonathan Harris Image Credit: Visoot Uthairam | GETTY IMAGES | Creative #:862142692


A step closer to a Chikungunya vaccine

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne disease which spreads to humans and can cause fever and severe joint pain, sometimes felt long term. It’s most common in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. But just like better known diseases Dengue and Zika, outbreaks look set to become more widespread as the world warms. We hear from Josie Shillito who caught Chikungunya while working on the island of Réunion. And Reader in Virus Evolution at Imperial College London, Dr Nuno R. Faria gives his reaction to news of the first phase three vaccination trial for the disease. In the first of a new series where we try to answer your health questions, we hear from Steve from New Zealand who wants to know about the connection between migraines and vertigo. Dr Michael Strupp, Professor of Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology at the University of Munich sheds some light. BBC health reporter Philippa Roxby joins Claudia Hammond to discuss the latest health research. This week we hear about a shortage of blood available for transfusions across Sub-Saharan Africa. A study from the US estimating how many lives of people with covid would have been saved if the vaccines had been shared evenly around the world; How a drug more commonly used to treat diabetes might lower the risk of developing long covid. And a study from Taiwan where subterranean robots have been used to destroy mosquito breeding sites in sewers. Image Credit: Reuters Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producers: Clare Salisbury & Jonathan Blackwell


China's Covid-19 lockdown: What happened next?

When China abruptly ended its tough lockdown policy in December 2022, Covid cases in the country rose rapidly. The Government’s official death toll was 121,000, but medical epidemiologist Ray Yip is one of several experts estimating it could have been much higher. Now China is experiencing another wave of Covid-19 fuelled by the Omicron variant, but this time the nation seems determined to continue with normal life. Claudia Hammond speaks to journalist Cindy Sui who has interviewed Chinese people about how authorities are handling the virus. Claudia investigates the rise of medical journals and events, which might not be what they first appear. So called ‘pseudo-journals' have even been known to accept complete fiction. She is also joined by professor of Epidemiology at Boston University Matt Fox to discuss recent trials of a new low cost meningitis vaccine in Mali and The Gambia. If rolled out it could protect against the five main meningococcal strains found in Africa. And a new way of detecting dangerous blood loss after birth. A randomised trial shows a plastic drape, costing between 1 and 2 US dollars might significantly lower the number of deaths by post-partum haemorrhage. Image Credit: Getty Images Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury Assistant producer: Jonathan Blackwell


Uganda's anti-gay law and healthcare

As Uganda approves some of the harshest anti-LGBTQ legislation in the world, we hear from Dr Chloe Orkin, Professor of infection and inequities at Queen Mary University in London about the impact the new laws are already having on HIV health services. Strict abortion laws in some US states are causing women to travel hundreds of miles to terminate their pregnancies across state lines. In the latest in our series on the health impacts of the US Supreme Court ruling on abortion, Claudia Hammond discusses the mental health consequences that these abortion restrictions can have. She speaks to Nancy Davis from Louisiana who had to travel over 1,300 miles to New York for a medically advised abortion after being told her unborn baby would not live to term. We also hear from Dr. Katherine Wisner, Professor of Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Northwestern University in Chicago, who has researched the mental health ramifications of abortion restrictions. BBC health and science correspondent James Gallagher discusses the reaction to a new UK study which claims that including certain foods and drinks can prevent age related memory loss. And how researchers in Canada and the USA have discovered a new superbug killing antibiotic using AI. Image Credit: Jadwiga Figula Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producers: Clare Salisbury and Jonathan Blackwell


What can we do about back pain?

As new research is released showing that lower back pain is the leading cause of disability across the world, we ask Professor of musculoskeletal health at Sydney university, Manuela Ferreira what we can do to reduce the risks. We’re talking empathy; the ability to resonate with how others feel. Do healthcare professionals have enough empathy? And can having too much sometimes cause people working in healthcare difficulties with their own mental health? BBC health reporter Smitha Mundasad joins Claudia in the studio to discuss heart health. As a new report by the World Heart Foundation warns that deaths from cardiovascular disease have increased by more than 60 per cent over the last 3 decades, we look at a study from Japan that shows how keeping your legs strong can lead to a better prognosis after a heart attack. And a device that could increase your chances of surviving an avalanche has been tested in Italy. Claudia and Smitha discuss the results. Image Credit: Moyo Studio Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury Assistant Producer: Jonathan Blackwell


Home testing kits for disease screening

Home testing kits for screening people for signs of diseases have become more and more common in recent years. Now a study in the US shows that mailing women from low-income backgrounds tests for HPV, almost doubled the uptake of cervical screening. So, is ‘do-it-yourself’ testing the answer for other conditions, in other countries? Claudia discusses with BBC health and science journalist Philippa Roxby. Dr Ike Anya is a consultant in public health and published author. He explains why he hopes his new memoir ‘Small by Small’ about his student days spent studying medicine in Nigeria might inspire medics all around the world to share their own experiences. We hear from the USA, where new nutritional standards on school meals aim to limit the amount of added sugar and salt in children’s’ lunchtime meals. Philippa looks at the World Health Organisation’s decision to declassify the Covid-19 pandemic from being a global health emergency. And she brings Claudia a study that shows why taller people with long legs might have an advantage against stockier competitors in extreme sports events held in the heat. Image Credit: The Good Brigade Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury Assistant Producer: Jonathan Blackwell