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BBC World Service - Health Check

Health Check

Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.

Health Check

  • Does being congenitally blind protect against schizophrenia?
    To date there have been no cases of schizophrenia in people who are cortically blind from birth or in the first few years of life. Cortical blindness is the total or partial loss of vision caused by damage to the primary visual cortex. This idea that being blind is somehow protective against developing the mental illness schizophrenia has been around since the 1950s, but up until now has not been studied in a large population. Vera Morgan, Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology at the University of Western Australia, used data from health registers covering almost 500,000 people to examine this phenomenon. The results have recently been published in the journal Schizophrenia Research. Have you ever experienced that shameful tickle of enjoyment when a gorgeous film star trips up on the red carpet or a politician who has preached high morals gets caught doing something they shouldn't? If you have, then you will be familiar with the feeling of schadenfreude. It may sound mean, but it could have a useful function, according to Tiffany Watt Smith from Queen Mary University of London, who is the author of "Schadenfreude: The joy of another's misfortune". She joined Claudia along with Wilco Van Dijk, Professor of Psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Repeated exposure to the sun ages everyone, but new research now shows that there are remarkable differences between white and black skin in terms of damage sustained by the effects of the sun. Dr Abigail Langton, a research fellow at the University of Manchester compared black and white 18 to 30 year olds with seventy years olds and found ageing happens about fifty years more slowly in black people than white. The study was written up in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from Sarah Boseley. (Main Image: A neurosurgeon studies an MRI scan. Credit: BSIP / UIG via Getty Images)

  • Do You Use Your Phone in the Night?
    Epidemiologists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have been investigating whether phones in the bedroom might affect people’s health by keeping them awake, waking them up or affecting the quality of their sleep. Inspired by the BBC Loneliness Experiment, they turned to Radio Denmark to help gather their data. They had a fantastic response and 25,000 Radio Denmark listeners took part in the SleepSmart study. Naja Hulvej Rod, professor of Stress Epidemiology at the University of Copenhagen, tells Health Check presenter Claudia Hammond about the results. Because haemophilia is one of the most expensive conditions to treat, where you are born affects survival rates. Life expectancies in Western Europe and North America have crept up since the 1950s to approaching normal today. In the Western world, haemophiliacs can lead relatively normal lives due mainly to the availability of preventative transfusions of clotting factors a few times a week. However 60% of an estimated 475,000 haemophiliacs globally are undiagnosed and around 75% of them have little or no access to these medicines because they are completely unaffordable. In Kenya, a lack of knowledge and resources to treat haemophilia perpetuates myths and stigma, while the crippling cost of treatment or physically disabling effects of untreated bleeds keeps sufferers hidden. But a small band of haemophilia champions are fighting to bring about big change. Hannah McNeish reports from Muranga, a small town in central Kenya. It has long been known that people who exercise a lot have a lower risk of developing dementia later in life. But now new research suggests that aerobic exercise eg running, cycling and swimming, could also improve executive function in younger people. The research was conducted by Yaakov Stern, professor of Neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Centre, and has recently been published in the journal Neurology. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Helena Selby With comments from family doctor Ann Robinson. (Photo caption: A young man checking his smartphone in bed - credit: Getty Images)

  • Is Slimness in the Genes?
    Sadaf Farooqi, Professor of Metabolism and Medicine at the University of Cambridge, has been a pioneer in the genetics of obesity for more than twenty years, discovering more than a hundred common genetic variants as well as twenty single genes which can make people put on weight from early childhood. Twin studies have shown that about 40% of the variation in a person’s weight is influenced by their genes. And now she has discovered something brand new; why thin, but healthy people have genetic advantages in terms of maintaining a healthy weight. The research has just been published in the journal PLOS Genetics. In the midst of political chaos and a worsening economic crisis that has seen rampant hyperinflation, widespread food shortages and spiralling crime, Venezuela’s public health system is in a state of collapse. Roughly one in twelve Venezuelans has left their homeland, and almost half of this migrant population is now living in neighbouring Colombia, which is struggling to cope with the rapid influx of new arrivals. Nowhere is the pressure on public health services greater than in Cúcuta, the largest Colombian city along the border with Venezuela and the point of entry for many. It has been estimated that around 35,000 Venezuelan migrants arrive in Cúcuta daily, of which up to 5,000 per day remain in Colombia. In the midst of this health crisis, there has been a mass exodus of pregnant women seeking safer conditions in which to give birth. Theo Hessing travelled to Cúcuta to find out more. It can be hard to be positive when you are in a lot of pain, but self-belief might be just what the doctor ordered. Researchers from the University of East Anglia studied the progress of adults suffering from shoulder pain as they underwent physiotherapy, looking at 71 factors that could impact their success. They found that confidence in the ability to carry on with daily life and high expectations of recovery, were two of the three most important in making the biggest difference to pain and disability after six months. Lead author Dr Rachel Chester, a lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of East Anglia, explained more about the power of positive thinking to Claudia. (Photo caption: Two women jogging in the park - credit: Getty Images) Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from New Scientist Medical reporter Clare Wilson Producer: Helena Selby

  • Happy Birthday to the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist!
    Health Check has been following the progress of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Surgical Safety checklist since 2006 and it’s now the 10th anniversary of the first big evaluation of it. The Surgical Checklist is a list that surgical staff go through right at the start of an operation to make sure they are operating on the right person, in the right way, with the right staff and the right equipment. They also check whether the patient has any allergies, whether they have been given the right kind of antibiotics to prevent infection and that they have not had anything to eat since the night before. Another part of the ethos of the checklist is that any member of staff, however junior, is encouraged to speak up if they are worried about anything being amiss. It is now used in more than a hundred hospitals globally. Michelle White is a consultant anaesthetist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, who through the organisation Mercy Ships has been training staff around the world. Dr Nina Capo-Chichi, a first year paediatric surgeon at the national hospital in Benin, took part in the training sessions. Some people find that winter affects their mood and they even experience depression and find themselves withdrawing socially every winter, while in summer they feel fine. It is known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD, and can be far more serious than simply feeling a bit miserable in the winter. A team of researchers at the University of South Wales, in the UK, wanted to know why some people get SAD and others do not. They studied the latitude where people live and whether they have SAD, and also something more curious; their eye colour. Professor of Psychology Lance Workman explains more to Claudia. (Photo caption: Surgeons in operating room - credit: Getty Images) Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from Dr Graham Easton Producer: Helena Selby