Health Desk

"Look. Have you seen this?" asks 60-year-old Emmanuel Kwame, who's completely blind. We are standing in his vegetable garden in the village of Asubende in central Ghana. I do see what he's pointing at, but I'm unclear what he "sees." He's tapping his walking stick against a denuded stalk that used to be some sort of plant. "This is palm nuts. It was growing, and some goats came to eat it."

In Asubende, goats are the bane of the blind. Goats are clever. They're quick. They defy gravity and fencing.

One of the problems with river blindness is that it doesn't kill you.

Many women in the U.S. are waiting longer than ever to have their first child.

Fifteen years ago, the mean age of a woman when she first gave birth was 24.9 years old. In 2014, that age had risen to 26.3.

"Messieurs, c'est les microbes qui auront le dernier mot."

"Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word."

That comment from 19th century disease fighter Louis Pasteur is not what you'd expect to see at the start of a report from some of the world's top public health officials. But the report itself has a stinging message: We're not prepared for the next coming plague or pandemic — or HIV 2.0.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Obama's State of the Union address did not include a lot of big, ambitious projects. Here was the one major exception.

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

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's first stab at offering nutrition advice came in 1894, when W. O. Atwater, a chemist and pioneering nutrition investigator for the agency, published this warning in a Farmer's Bulletin:

"Unless care is exercised in selecting food, a diet may result which is one-sided or badly balanced. ... The evils of overeating may not be felt at once, but sooner or later they are sure to appear..."

When Ryan Green's son Joel was 1 year old he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. Over the next few years, he underwent rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, only to have the cancer return.

A growing number of primary care doctors, spurred by frustration with insurance requirements, are bringing "health care for billionaires" to the masses, including people on Medicare and Medicaid, and state employees.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Veteran Dave Manning provided medical support during two combat deployments in Iraq. He's also been the sole medical provider on a Navy ship with more than 100 people. And yet, after 20 years of service, he says, "Nothing I've done really translates over [into civilian jobs] beyond basic EMT."

But that is about to change. Manning is in the inaugural class of a physician assistant training program launched by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that aims to recruit nontraditional students — specifically, veterans.

There's no medicine to treat diarrhea or patients with war injuries.

Patients with cancer and hypertension are also not being treated because of a lack of supplies.

That's the situation in Taiz, Yemen's third largest city, because of a blockade that began in mid-November, a tactic in the civil war that began in September 2014 and greatly accelerated last March, when neighboring Saudi Arabia began a campaign of heavy air strikes in support of the country's recognized government.

Every year some 2 million Americans get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and 23,000 of them die from these superbugs.

Superbugs are mostly a hospital problem: They're where these pathogens are often born and spread, and where the infected come for help. But hospitals are not where the majority of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used.

Is it real or is it satire?

In Thailand, a dark-skinned actress laments, "If I was white, I would win."

In India, a movie director says, "I can't have any dark people on my set" and hands a skin-lightening product to two dusky actors.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has notified the federal government that Kentucky will dismantle its state health insurance exchange, Kynect.

The move will direct Kentuckians seeking health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to use the federal health insurance site, HealthCare.gov.

More than 500,000 people have gotten health insurance through Kynect.

For people whose income changes shift them above or below the Medicaid threshold during the year, navigating their health insurance coverage can be confusing. Ditto for lower income people who live in states that may expand Medicaid this year.

Michigan officials are stepping up their efforts to address elevated lead levels in Flint's water after residents accused them of responding too slowly to the crisis.

Local officials are handing out water filters and jugs in the streets of Flint and have set up five new distribution centers for filters and testing kits.

The mammography debate heated up once again in April 2015, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft of its latest breast cancer screening recommendations.

Melioidosis is a disease that strikes fear in those who've heard of it.

Doctors in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia know it as a stubborn, potentially deadly infection that causes pneumonia, abscesses and, in the most severe cases, organ failure. Without treatment, it can kill within 48 hours. Military officials worry it could be converted into an agent of terror.

A new traffic law has some New Delhi residents wondering: "How the heck do I get to work?"

Following the lead of Beijing and Mexico City, the Delhi government put into effect an "odd-even" policy for cars starting Jan. 1. Residents can only drive their cars on either odd or even days, based on the last digit of their license plate numbers — though everyone gets a pass before 8 a.m., after 8 p.m. and on weekends.

People who take certain popular medicines for heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux may want to proceed more cautiously, researchers reported Monday.

The drugs, known as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), appear to significantly elevate the chances of developing chronic kidney disease, according to a study involving more than 250,000 people.

Lower-back pain is very democratic in the people it strikes.

"It's a universal experience. You'd be a really uncommon person never to have had an episode of back pain," says Chris Maher, a physical therapist turned health researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia. "It's a common problem across the whole of the globe," he says, whether it's North America, sub-Saharan Africa or rural India.

On any given episode of East Los High, the highly addictive teen soap on Hulu that just got a fourth season, you'll see love triangles and heartbreak, mean girls and bad boys, and some seriously skillful dancing. Think a Latino Degrassi meets Gossip Girl meets Glee.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There has been a long debate in the United States over whether the mentally ill should be allowed to own guns. But in fact, for decades, federal law has banned gun ownership for a limited number of mentally ill people.

When Jack O'Connor was 19, he was so desperate to beat his addictions to alcohol and opioids that he took a really rash step. He joined the Marines.

"This will fix me," O'Connor thought as he went to boot camp. "It better fix me or I'm screwed."

After 13 weeks of sobriety and exercise and discipline, O'Connor completed basic training, but he started using again immediately.

"Same thing," he says. "Percocet, like, off the street. Pills."

Photographer Steve McCurry has been frequenting — and documenting — India since 1978. His new book, Steve McCurry: India highlights the extraordinary moments of ordinary, everyday life across the subcontinent.

We caught up with the man most famous for his portrait of a fiery young girl in Afghanistan and asked him about some of the more colorful scenes — and colorful people — that caught his eye.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.

He's the cop who gets shot by Jennifer Lopez.

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