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BBC World Service - Health Check

Health Check

Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.

Health Check

  • 'Breakthrough' in Treating Fatal Brain Condition
    There’s been a breakthrough this week in the fatal brain condition, Huntington’s Disease. Affected families are told they have a 50% chance of passing the faulty gene onto their children – and up until now there has been no treatment. Scientists at University College London corrected the genetic defect for the first time ever – using an experimental drug which was injected into the spinal fluid. This safely lowered levels of toxic proteins in the brain. Twenty years after its removal from the school curriculum, what is the state of sex education in the Lebanon? Some schools teach basic health information but helplines and workshops aim to fill in the gaps for young people keen to know the facts. Going to see the doctor can be embarrassing especially if you have to take off clothes or discuss a personal issue. The shame which can result from embarrassment can mean we don’t tell the doctor the whole story about our worries and this can affect our health. We hear from a researcher who wants doctors to consider how shame can get in the way of good healthcare. (Photo: Peter Allen has Huntington's disease and his siblings Sandy and Frank also have the gene. © James Gallagher BBC)

  • 50 Years Since First Heart Transplant
    The first ever heart transplant took place in Cape Town in South Africa fifty years ago this week. That patient died after just 18 days – but today around five thousand people have heart transplants every year. A shortage of donor hearts means there is often a wait – and an artificial pump called an L-VAD can buy time. We hear from doctors and a patient about the advances in technology which have made the pumps easier to live with. The World Health Organization says that more than 200 million women – most in sub-Saharan Africa - are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). The girls who have their labia and clitoris cut away often have lifelong health problems as a result. FGM was banned in The Gambia two years ago – where 3 out of 4 girls have been cut. Our reporter Irene Caselli travelled to west Africa and heard how attitudes are slowly changing. Exercise helps to keep us healthy. But thinking that we do less than our friends can have a negative impact - and even shorten our lives. The American study analysed 21 years’ worth of data and could influence public health campaigns aimed at making us more active. (Photo: Getty Images)

  • Scarlet Fever Outbreaks
    In 2016 the infectious disease scarlet fever hit its highest level in 50 years in England and there are also epidemics in Hong Kong, South Korea and parts of China and these do not show any sign of letting up. Dr Theresa Lamagni, head of streptococcal surveillance at Public Health England, talks about the outbreaks. Family doctor Graham Easton and Claudia Hammond discuss the WHO’s World Malaria Report which shows that progress in preventing the disease has stalled. Schoolchildren in the UK are helping older people decorate their walking frames, known as Zimmer frames, to make them a bit more beautiful, and at the same time reduce the number of falls, which are common in the elderly. Bobbie Lakhera reports from a care home in Wales taking part in the Pimp my Zimmer project. We tend to think of sibling rivalry as something that is inevitable – and not good. But in her new book, Siblings, clinical psychologist Linda Blair says there can be benefits. She tells Claudia how parents should deal with sibling rivalry. (Photo: Child with scarlet fever. Credit: Getty Images)

  • Every Step You Take Counts
    Millions of people wear electronic step-counting bracelets or use apps on their phones – aiming for ten thousand steps a day. Claudia Hammond asks whether this routine motivates her – or if it’s actually setting her up for failure. Some experts applaud the bar charts and graphs which track progress as proof of healthy activity. But can the constant checking take away the pleasure of exercise? American scientists found that after the novelty wore off people did less because the competitive nature of step counting undermined their intrinsic motivation. Claudia looks for evidence behind the daily target of 10,000 steps. It dates back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when a Japanese company produced the “manpo-kei” pedometer (literally “ten thousand steps meter”) to boost activity – though the evidence to support the 10k target appears weak. Measuring activity has now moved into the workplace. One Dutch company gave free Fitbits to workers to track their steps, calories burned and sleep. Although drop-out rates were high, stress levels did fall. Some insurance companies now offer discounts for the most active – but steps counters ignore factors like age, stride length and speed. And who’s to say you haven’t given the step counter to your dog, running around the park? (Photo: Getty Images)

  • Could Cholesterol-lowering Drugs Fight Pneumonia?
    Thousands of people around the world take a statin pill every day – to lower their cholesterol levels and help reduce their risk of stroke and heart attacks. In some people they cause side-effects – but they might also have a hidden benefit - helping older people fight the serious respiratory infection pneumonia. A British researcher describes her delight when she saw that statins boosted the immune systems of older people – which could help them fight deadly pneumonia. Following the biggest ever outbreak in Australia it is now the turn of the northern hemisphere to prepare for the flu season. As winter approaches in Europe and the US we answer listeners’ questions on flu and colds. You might have seen stories online where a couple are in bed together, the man calls out, she screams…his heart’s given up. Every day in the USA more than a thousand people have a cardiac arrest – which is where the heart stops beating because of an electrical problem. Some people with heart problems worry about whether the exertion of having sex might put a strain on their heart. But at the American Heart Association’s conference this week, there was good news: it’s much more rare than we thought. Image: Statin (Simvastatin) pills on a blister pack Credit: Science Photo Library