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BBC World Service - Health Check

Health Check

Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.

Health Check

  • Perfect Storm: Smoking Rises in African Youth
    Presenter Claudia Hammond talks to children of parents with mental illness and family psychiatrist Alan Cooklin, who set up the UK charity, the Kidstime Foundation. Ayesha and Keera share their experiences of living with and looking after a mother or father with conditions such as schizophrenia and severe depression. The number of young people who smoke is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa while rate of take-up of the deadly habit by youth is falling in Europe and North America. Africa’s tobacco trend was a key issue of concern for experts at the recent World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town. Doctors dread the consequences for Africa’s young smokers as lung disease caused by tobacco will be exacerbated by the region’s high HIV and TB rates. One describes the situation as ‘a perfect storm’. Hannah McNeish reports from Cape Town. Claudia is also in South Africa, in rural Kwazulu Natal. She gets a tour of a medical clinic in a truck by Prof Deenan Pillay of the Africa Health Research Institute. It’s one of several which will be driving out into remote communities for a massive study of 50,000 people on the socio-economic and biological factors which influence fortunes of patients with HIV and/or TB. In this area of South Africa, 30% of population is infected with HIV and 30% of recorded deaths are down to TB. Family doctor Ann Robinson is Claudia’s studio guest talking about a massive new global study of lower back pain and evidence-based strategies to dissuade young people from starting smoking. Ann gives a brief backgrounder on Novichok nerve agents and discusses the suggested link between low sperm counts and ill health in men. (Photo: An African boy smoking a cigarette. Credit: Chris Hondros Getty Images)

  • British Trial Hope for Leukaemia Patients
    Could a British medical trial herald a cure for the commonest type of blood cancer? BBC reporter Simon Cox has had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia or CLL for more than a decade. Like him, many patients don’t have health problems for years. For those who do need treatment, options include chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants. CLL is a disease of the immune system – the lymphocyte cells which fight infections and then die, instead grow out of control and can’t be “switched off”. Simon Cox talks to Peter Hillmen, professor of experimental haematology at St James’ hospital in Leeds in northern England who’s on a mission to find a cure. He’s recruited 50 CLL patients – whose disease returned after chemotherapy - onto the Clarity trial. They are given two non-chemotherapy drugs - Venetoclax and Ibrutinib – to target elements of CLL - the proliferation of cells and their inability to die off. Andy Wright is on the trial. Initially 84% of his bone marrow cells contained CLL. After eight months that figure had fallen to just 0.0085%. A third of the trial patients have no trace of CLL – an unprecedented response which Professor Hillmen believes means a cure is now much closer. (Photo: Simon Cox with Andy Wright, one of the patients on the Clarity trial © BBC)

  • Is Diabetes Five Different Diseases?
    New research suggests there are five distinct types of diabetes and not just the two in the medical text books. Claudia Hammond talks to BBC News health reporter James Gallagher and lead researcher Leif Groop of the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden about this new proposed classification of this globally rampant condition. How might it affect how people with the various different types are treated in the future. Professor Groop is now working with doctors in India and China to see how the incidence of the different diabetes types varies from one region of the world to another. The science of getting angry because you are hungry. Katy Takatsuki investigates a question from World Service listener Abi Gurjar about the phenomenon known as ‘hanger’. There is some real research behind the link between an empty-stomach and the descent of the red mist. CIMAvax is a lung cancer vaccine devised and developed by researchers in Cuba. It works in a novel way compared to other cancer immunotherapies developed elsewhere in the world and it seems to be unusually effective at bringing late stage lung cancer under control. Now it’s being trialled in the USA in collaboration with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center – lung cancer vaccine (CIMAvax) trial in New York state. It is the first Cuban anti-cancer agent to be tested in the USA. Roswell Park president Candace Johnson explains the excitement around this promising Cuban therapy, and talks about its Cuban origins. BBC News reporter James Gallagher also talks to Claudia about the winners of this year’s Brain Prize, and they remember Sir Roger Bannister the neurologist (rather than the first athlete to run a mile in less than 4 minutes). (Photo: Insulin and syringes. Credit: Getty Images)

  • Seven Hour Operation Removes Giant ‘Brain’ Tumour
    Earlier this month, neurosurgeon Trimurti Nadkarni led a surgical team that removed what’s claimed to be the world’s largest brain tumour. The 31-year-old patient from Mumbai had a tumour that weighed 1.8kg and that had grown beneath the skin of his scalp through the skull and into the brain. Dr Nadkarni of the BYL Nair Charitable Hospital tells Claudia Hammond how his team approached the seven hour long, high risk operation. The doctors and nurses working in besieged Eastern Ghouta in Syria say they are close to collapse as they try to save lives during the most intense period of fighting that the area has endured. Meinie Nicolai, director general of MSF in Brussels, is in contact with medical staff in Eastern Ghouta. They say they are running out of essential supplies, get little sleep and face death themselves from bombing as casualties pour into their damaged facilities. What is it about the brains of older people who have retained good memories and thinking skills well into their 80s and 90s? One study led by Dr Emily Rogalski of Northwestern University has identified a small group dubbed SuperAgers who have memory skills as good as those of people 30 or more years younger. Dr Claudia Kawas at the University of California, Irvine studies people in their 90s and has also discovered intriguing features in their brains. (Photo: Mr Santlal Pal before the operation to remove the 1.8kg tumour growing into his brain by surgeons at the B Y L Nair Charitable Hospital in Mumbai. Credit: B Y L Nair Charitable Hospital)

  • Lassa Fever Outbreak in Nigeria
    An outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria has made hundreds ill and killed at least 43 people. With symptoms including bleeding from gums, eyes and nose, it shares some similarities with Ebola, but is less infectious and can be mild. Professor Dan Bausch of the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team is preparing to send people over to Nigeria if required to contain the outbreak. And Professor Robert Garry of Tulane University tells Claudia Hammond about the search for a vaccine against Lassa fever. Cancer treatment is difficult for children to endure and for parents to watch. St James Hospital in Leeds in the north of England is helping its young patients to cope by painting the masks they have to wear to keep them still during radiotherapy. Paula McGrath went to meet some of the children and staff. Rebecca Ashton, a clinical psychologist studying at Lancaster University, has published a review of research from around the world that shows that many members of staff in accident and emergency units have experienced verbal or physical violence. She talks to Claudia Hammond about what she found and what could be done about it. With expert comments from family doctor Graham Easton. (Photo: Getty Images)