Health Desk

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Investigators discovered this month that United Nations peacekeepers in the Central African Republic were paying girls at a camp for the internally displaced less than a dollar for sex. It's the latest of several such incidents plaguing the U.N. mission there — 22 other cases of alleged sexual abuse or exploitation have been reported in the past 14 months.

A new method of delivering medication for opioid addicts gained approval from a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel this week. It's a matchstick-like insert designed to slip under the skin and release a drug over a period of months. Some physicians say the implant will be a useful addition to the currently short lineup of medication-assisted treatment options.

Why Terrorists Are Targeting 'Unsung Heroes'

Jan 15, 2016

Just last month, polio experts were wondering if the tipping point for bringing an end to the crippling disease was near, with cases having further declined in the only two remaining countries not yet free of the infection, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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Money is a big motivator. And the prospect of a cash payoff in any sort of gamble is alluring — just think of the Powerball buzz this week.

So, what happens when financial incentives are tied to weight-loss goals? A growing body of evidence suggests that it's not necessarily a slam dunk.

Addicted to prescription painkillers after a high-school sports injury, Cameron Burke moved on to heroin, which was cheaper and more easily accessible. His parents tried everything, more than once sending him out of state for treatment.

"It was never enough," Jennifer Weiss-Burke of Albuquerque, N.M., told a local TV reporter last year. "Thirty days here, 30 days there, maybe detox for five days. It was never long-term, and that's what he needed. Recovery from heroin addiction requires long-term treatment."

Eating healthfully in America is hard. We have to contend with constant sugary and oily temptations, while pervasive ads coax us to eat these items day in and out.

The public health community generally agrees that regulations and taxes could help remind us of the potential health toll of the unhealthiest items — like beverages high in sugar — and keep us from consuming too much of them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering a travel warning for countries where Zika virus is circulating. The reason: growing concern among researchers that the virus could be causing babies in Brazil to be born with brain damage.

The Zika virus is named after the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was first identified in the 1940s. For decades it was a rare disease, primarily popping up in Africa and occasionally in Southeast Asia. In 2007, there was a major Zika outbreak in Micronesia. Then in May of 2015 the virus turned up in Brazil.

The World Health Organization announced Thursday that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is over — for now.

For the first time since the outbreak began in December 2013, all three of the hardest-hit West African nations — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — have had zero reported cases of Ebola for 42 days in a row. That's equal to two full incubation cycles of the virus.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa may be officially over — the World Health Organization made that momentous announcement Thursday, but more cases are likely to crop up and crucial questions about the disease remain unanswered. We asked Dr. Daniel Bausch, an expert on Ebola who is now working with the World Health Organization, to list the top five mysteries researchers still need to clear up.

"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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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

Transcript

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.

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