London, United Kingdom
Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.
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
Giving small babies a better start
One in four babies around the world is born too small. Either preterm, small for gestational age, or with a low birthweight. We hear from maternal health advocate Ashley Muteti from Nairobi in Kenya who has had three small babies, one of whom, Zuri, died after 49 days. Now a group of doctors is calling on health leaders around the world to focus on these ‘small and vulnerable newborns’, suggesting a series of small interventions for pregnant women which they say could save a million babies’ lives every year. Family doctor Dr Ann Robinson discusses a new study looking at the most effective treatment for men with localised prostate cancer. She also looks at evidence from the USA that a common stomach infection caused by long term courses of antibiotics might be effectively treated by oral bacteria. And we hear from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London where a programme for people with aphasia is giving intensive speech therapy to people who struggle to speak after having a stroke. Image Credit: Morten Falch Sortland Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury
Keeping hospitals open in Khartoum
Medical professionals in Khartoum tell us how they are managing to continue their work to treat people in hospitals despite the ongoing violence in Sudan. Some hospitals are out of service and doctors say they are struggling to secure medical supplies. There is evidence that high blood pressure in young people in England is going undiagnosed, and levels are rising in the USA. Dr Graham Easton looks at the latest. He also discusses new research which may lead to earlier diagnosis of the degenerative condition Parkinson’s disease by testing for a build-up of abnormal proteins. Ian Temple has Parkinson’s disease, but that hasn’t stopped him dancing. He is part of a group run by the English National Ballet for people with Parkinson’s. We hear from a dance class, and Elke Kalbe, Professor of medical psychology at the University of Cologne, explains how physical exercise like this might benefit people with the condition. And have you ever heard someone with a near death experience recount that their life flashed before their eyes? We discuss new neuroscience which might explain the phenomenon. Image credit: Ahmed Satti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury
Why we need more black doctors
Addressing racial diversity amongst doctors can improve outcomes for people in their local communities. We speak to Dr Monica Peek, Doctor of Internal Medicine and Professor for Health Justice of Medicine at the University of Chicago, about a new study showing that a 10 per cent increase in black representation amongst clinicians increased life expectancy for black people by more than 30 days. BBC Health and Science Correspondent James Gallagher looks at an international decline in childhood vaccine take up during the Covid 19 pandemic. He discusses a new study which links taking a long afternoon nap with obesity and high blood pressure. And have you ever sensed that someone was with you when you were actually completely alone? It happened to polar explorer Luke Robertson in 2016 when he became the first Scottish person to trek solo to the South Pole. In his book ‘Presence: The Strange Science and True Stories of the Unseen Other’, psychologist Ben Alderson-Day tries to make sense of the phenomenon which has been known to affect many people from Polar explorers, to people with sleep disorders or Parkinson’s disease. Image Credit: Morsa Images Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury
Malaria vaccines approved first in West Africa
More than a quarter of the world’s malaria cases happen in Nigeria according to the World Health Organisation. This week the country became the second, after Ghana to provisionally approve the use of malaria vaccine R21. Professor Matt Fox explains why scientists have called the vaccine a ‘world changer’. We hear from dementia nurse Kemi Reeves who supports people living with dementia in Los Angeles. Her project has recently been shown to reduce the cost of caring for people with Alzheimers. We also hear about a new piece of research from the UK showing that hearing aids may protect against a higher risk of dementia. As we learn more about ‘Long Covid’, we explore evidence that links breathlessness with having had disrupted sleep. And have you ever been told you grind your teeth? Author Naomi Alderman was shocked recently when visiting the dentist to be told she had a condition called bruxism and hadn’t even realised. We ask whether experiencing the Covid pandemic may have led to more of us griding and clenching our teeth. Image Credit: Halfpoint Images Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Clare Salisbury
New way of giving lifesaving drug in childbirth
Researchers in Zambia and Pakistan have shown that a drug which helps to stop bleeding in childbirth is safe to give by injection into a muscle - making it easier to save women’s lives where skilled help isn’t always close by. Tranexamic acid is usually given by a drip into a vein. But a new study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine compared that method with giving an injection into the thigh and administering it as a drink in a solution. They found that the injection was just as effective as the drip – which doctors say will save time and lives. We hear from one of the first people in the world to be given blood grown in a laboratory – and the scientist who made it possible. People with conditions like sickle cell anaemia could eventually benefit from this technology with lab blood tailored to their needs. Overweight people with painful arthritic joints might be told it’s due to “wear and tear”. But Dr Graham Easton explains how a new study shows that changes to cells within our joints cause inflammation – and it’s not simply a case of extra weight putting pressure on our knees and hips. Producer: Paula McGrath
Women aren’t being promoted in healthcare
Women do 90% of the work in global healthcare but hold only a quarter of leadership roles. We hear from an American doctor who says patients are missing out on the unique perspective of women because they aren’t involved in strategic decision-making. Margaret in Nairobi has set up a WhatsApp group to help to improve the rights of community healthcare workers and Indian doctor Snigdha explains how equality can only happen if childcare and access to education for women are improved. Pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes appear to make newborn babies “biologically younger” than those born to women who have healthy pregnancies. Researchers studied data from 1800 babies from 12 different parts of the United States and found that their so-called epigenetic age was reduced by around a week if their mothers had the conditions. As students across the world ask the popular artificial intelligence programme Chat GPT to write their essays, Professor Graham Easton assesses how much impact it could have on healthcare, from breast cancer screening to medical record keeping. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Paula McGrath Image Credit: Getty Images/ SDI Productions
Could armpit sweat help tackle anxiety?
Here on Health Check, we’re always sniffing out the best global health research for our listeners – and this week is no different. We’ll hear about a study in Sweden where researchers are testing whether smelling other people’s body odour could be a useful part of therapy for social anxiety. And what is One Health? A new report from the World Health Organization suggests a joint plan of action is needed to tackle animal and human health threats – and even to avert future pandemics. We’ll talk to intensive care doctor Matt Morgan about what we can learn from giraffes to treat brain injury, what a koala’s eating habits can reveal about gut health and how when faced with disease we might have a lot in common with ants… We’ll also have a report from Somalia where five consecutive failed rainy seasons have left five million people with acute food shortages and nearly two million children at risk of malnutrition. With a sixth season projected to fail, medics are warning of severe and long lasting health implications, particularly for children. And we’ll be joined by global health expert Dr Matt Fox to discuss how certain types of gut bacteria in babies could predict the chance of developing type 1 diabetes in later life. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Gerry Holt & Helena Selby
How giving babies peanut butter could cut allergy
Babies, peanut butter and allergies; Psychologist Professor Elaine Fox on how to navigate change; how changing the clocks twice a year affects our health and why misophonia, the strong reaction to sounds of other people breathing, yawning or chewing, could be more common than we thought. Image Credit: Mohd Hafiez Mohd Razali / EyeEm
Obesity drug: New hope for weight loss?
“Diet and exercise” has been the weight-loss mantra for decades but a drug designed for diabetes patients could now offer hope to people who are obese, at a time when researchers are warning that half of the world’s population are expected to be overweight or obese by 2035. One of the first to have injections of Semaglutide in the UK was Jan, who has battled with her weight since childhood. Once the medication took effect she lost four stone and said her hunger disappeared. Professor Stephen O’Rahilly from the University of Cambridge, explains how the drug mimics our body’s natural appetite signalling but its effects disappear once you stop the weekly injections. Family doctor Margaret McCartney says it might help some who are obese but warns that it has also gained a reputation as a “Hollywood skinny drug", reflecting some of society’s ideas about beauty and celebrity culture. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Paula McGrath (Photo: A jogger running around Clifton Downs, Bristol. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA)
How to cope with earthquake trauma
A month on from the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, we assess what kind of impact the disaster may have had on mental health. We hear from Professor Metin Basoglu, an expert in earthquake trauma and director of the Istanbul Centre for Behavioural Sciences. He explains how it is a unique kind of trauma rooted in fear and compounded by the uncontrollable nature of earthquakes and the thousands of aftershocks that come following the initial disaster. Prof Basoglu tells us about the psychological treatment he developed based on his research with 10,000 survivors of the 1999 earthquake in Turkey and how an earthquake simulator can be used to tackle trauma symptoms. We hear from researchers in the US and Kenya about a new discovery that has ended 100 years of searching for an airborne chemical that could hold the key to the way tsetse flies mate – and help to tackle the diseases they spread in humans. Our guest in the studio is family doctor Ann Robinson who has the latest research on global health. Could socialising more often be linked to a longer life? And why might half of the world’s population be obese by 2035? We’ll explore all this and more. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Gerry Holt Image: Survivors of the earthquake in the city of Jenderes in the countryside of Aleppo, north-western Syria. Credit: NurPhoto / Contributor
Vaccines: A tale of the unexpected
We delve into the science of how some vaccines could have unexpected effects beyond their intended target. They are called “non-specific effects” and we are only just at the beginning of our understanding despite scientists documenting this curious biological phenomenon more than 100 years ago. One of the earliest vaccines to be studied was the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine for Tuberculosis, better known as the BCG. Professor Christine Stabell-Benn gives us a history lesson and brings us up to date with her team’s research at the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau, Western Africa. Also in the programme we hear about a new device for fixing bones being trialled in Gaza and Sri Lanka – and already in use in Ukraine. We hear from surgeons about what kind of patients they are treating and from UK researchers on hopes it will offer a low-cost, easy-to-make alternative in countries where there are shortages of these fixators. Our studio guest this week is BBC News health and science journalist Philippa Roxby who talks us through the latest after an 11-year-old girl in Cambodia died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu. Plus, we look at new studies on long Covid and how much exercise we should be aiming to do each day. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Gerry Holt and Emily Knight
Supporting Ukrainian children
From human milk banks to babies born during conflict, this week we're all about the health of children and newborns. The most vulnerable premature babies benefit from human milk, but their mother's milk is often not available. We visit a human milk bank to explore how donors are making a difference. Dr Ann Robinson shares some surprising new research looking at a novel way of preventing short-sightedness. And one year on from the start of the war, Smitha Mundasad talks to a Ukrainian mother who was forced to flee her country while 7 months pregnant. In conversation with Sasha Yarova from War Child, Smitha finds out about support available for the thousands of Ukrainian children now making new homes in countries around Europe. Presenter: Smitha Mundasad Producer: Gerry Holt & Ilan Goodman
Biting back: The fight against snakebite
Venomous snakebites are responsible for up to 150,000 deaths a year around the world – and they also leave around half a million survivors with life-changing injuries, including amputations and disfigurement. In this week’s Health Check we investigate why snakebite still disproportionately affects poorer, more rural communities, and what is being done to tackle the problem. We’ll talk to a mother in Kenya whose little girl was bitten by a snake not once, but twice, and to a doctor about how it feels to save lives. We’ll hear how anti-venoms are checked and how in many cases they are too expensive to afford and how there are not always enough supplies. And even when they are available some don’t work well. Smitha Mundasad also visits the Centre for Snakebite Research and Interventions in Liverpool, England, where she gets to see a snake being “milked” for its venom – and finds out how new and improved anti-venoms are being created, all with a little help from camels. Join us on a journey crossing continents, from the front line of the fight against snakebite to the hunt for new therapies. Image: Herpetologist Edouard Crittenden “milking” a snake for its venom. Presenter: Smitha Mundasad Producers: Gerry Holt & Julia Ravey
Can heat affect mental health?
Can changes in the weather have an impact on our mental health? We go to Bangladesh in South Asia, a country on the front line of the impacts of climate change, where researchers have been exploring connections between incremental changes in heat and humidity, along with bigger impacts like flooding, and the levels of anxiety and depression in the population. They say their study has stark implications, not just for Bangladesh, but for many other countries too. Dr Belinda Fenty joins us bringing in some coffees in the studio. But can presenter Smitha Mundasad spot which cup has the caffeine? Dr Fenty talks us through what coffee actually does to the body and ponders other questions like how much is too much and why might you crash after a coffee high. She also take us through how to spot fake medicines and we take a look at an intriguing study on whether being married is good for your health. Presenter: Smitha Mundasad Producer: Gerry Holt (Photo: Pabna in Bangladesh at dusk. Credit: Emon Cena/Getty Images.)
Back from the brink
This week we’re dedicating the programme to a common medical emergency – one that can be deadly within minutes without the right help to hand. A cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body. We’ll hear from a doctor who battled for five hours to save a man 40,000ft up in the air; a student who’s teaching people not to be afraid to help in an emergency and we’ll hear a survivor’s story of life after cardiac arrest. Globally, there are tens of thousands of cardiac arrests outside of hospital every year. Fewer than one in 10 survive and this number varies depending on where you live, as does the availability of life-saving defibrillators – our studio guest Dr Belinda Fenty tells us more. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the first few minutes after the heart stops beating can be crucial. We have a live demo from a volunteer with UK charity St John Ambulance. Join us for an action-packed programme that might just help you save a life. Image: Dr Vishwaraj Vemala is thanked by the captain of the Air India flight after he saved a fellow passenger’s life Presenter: Smitha Mundasad Producer: Gerry Holt
After the floods
Six months on from the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history, a medic in eastern Balochistan describes what he is seeing daily. Khalid Saleem, who works for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), says many people are still living in shelters at the side of the road and must walk miles if they need healthcare. There are high levels of malnutrition, malaria and skin conditions such as scabies. We also talk Professor Zainab Samad, from Aga Khan University in Islamabad, who is the author of a major new report on the country’s health. She describes how people in these areas were already worse off even before the floods and says it will take years to recover – but it is everyone’s responsibility to help make society healthier. We hear from Dr Lindsay Dewa and medical student Simi Adewale on their project to explore digital connection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Imperial College London worked with young people to make a short film about the impact on young people’s mental health. And our guest is family doctor Ann Robinson, who’ll discuss the latest studies and health news, including strict new alcohol guidance for Canada and how “bed dancing” is helping hospital patients. Image credit: Getty Images Presenter: Smitha Mundasad Producer: Gerry Holt