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BBC World Service - Health Check

Health Check

Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.

Health Check

  • Covid-19 plasma therapy trial results ‘disappointing’
    For months now, many people hospitalised with Covid-19 have been given convalescent plasma – donated blood serum from people who’ve already had the illness. The hope has been that transfusing donated antibodies against the coronavirus will help to prevent deaths and serious illness. Convalescent plasma therapy received a high profile boost in the USA in August when the Trump administration announced emergency use authorisation for the treatment, despite the lack of robust evidence for its efficacy against the coronavirus. Now the results of the first completed randomised clinical trial of the therapy have been published in the British Medical Journal. The findings are not particularly encouraging. In this Indian study, there was no difference in the death rate or the progression from moderate to severe disease between patients given the therapy and those receiving only standard care. Claudia Hammond talks to Dr Aparna Mukherjee of the India Council of Medical Research and the BBC’s medicine and science correspondent James Gallagher about the prospects now for convalescent plasma therapy. Health Check also asks whether vaccines against other diseases might provide some protection against the coronavirus, and features a report from California where a lot of mental health counselling has gone online or on the phone since the pandemic took hold. How do people with mental health problems and their therapists feel about the loss of face-to-face sessions? Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker (Picture: An Iraqi phlebotomist holds a bag of plasma donated by a recovered Covid-19 patient. Photo credit: Asaad Niazi/AFP/Getty Images.)

  • Do the Covid-19 drugs work?
    What’s the evidence behind the drugs used to treat President Trump? The results of a World Health Organisation trial following patient outcomes in 204 countries are in. Remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine fail to reduce mortality over a 28 day period. Interferon and lopinavir are also shown to be ineffective. Is this the end of the road for using these drugs to treat Covid-19? Some good news from another global health survey. Before the pandemic, our track record on treating other infectious diseases was impressive, contributing to a significant reduction in death rates in low and middle income countries. But the numbers of people suffering from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes continues to rise putting us more at risk from Covid-19. Could outdoor swimming slow dementia? Hypothermia in mice prompts a promising response but it’s not so easy to study in humans. And how to deliver devastating health news over the phone. There are things doctors can do to help but nothing beats face to face communication when the news is distressing. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Anna Buckley (Picture: A man swims in the icy water of a frozen lake in the Houhai area of Beijing, China. Photo credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images.)

  • Have you ever hugged your doctor?
    This week Claudia Hammond looks at the role of touch in health care, revealing some of the results of the Touch Test, an online study commissioned by Wellcome Collection in collaboration with the BBC. Doctors often need to physically examine patients – but many consultations are now online. Family doctors Margaret McCartney and Ann Robinson explain how important touch is in the consulting room. One of the experts behind the Touch Test, Greenwich University’s Dr Natalie Bowling explains how men said they found touch helped them to communicate better with their doctor. And Deborah Bowman who’s professor of Bioethics at St George’s University in London reflects on how she helps trainee doctors to respect their patients’ dignity by practising on each other. Can touch play a role in talking therapies? Or is hugging a distressed client too risky, following #metoo? And we hear from Anne Townsend who has lost her sense of touch as a side effect of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Reflexology – where the feet are gently massaged – has helped to relieve some of her symptoms like pain and breathlessness – and she is looking forward to the birth of her first great grandson later this month. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Paula McGrath (Picture: A health worker and patient share a hug. Photo credit: Sanjeri/Getty Images.)

  • Touch Test results
    In these days of Covid-19 and social distancing, one thing that many of us are missing is being able to touch other human beings. Claudia Hammond reveals the results of the world's largest study on the topic of touch - the Touch Test. 40,000 people from a hundred and twelve countries took part. Professor Michael Banissy of Goldsmiths, University of London, led the analysis of the Touch Test and he explains the findings on who likes touch and who doesn't, and who feels they don't get enough touch. Claudia discusses these results and how much of a difference culture make to our attitudes towards this neglected sense with Michael and with touch researcher Juulia Suvilehto, from Linkoping University in Sweden, and Suddha Bhuchar, an actor and playwright working with the arts organisation Revoluton on a series of monologues on the topic of touch. Claudia also talks to Zahra and Hasina at the Pink Diamond Martial Arts club in Luton, who are using touch to build confidence. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald Main Image: Pink Diamond Girls Credit: Ferdusi Jahan for @revolutonarts

  • How long should Covid quarantine last?
    This week Belgium is shortening the quarantine period for people who’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for Covid-19 to a week – to see if it helps everyone stick to the rules. Fourteen days is recommended by the World Health Organization but Professor Steven van Gucht who is head virologist at the National Institute of Public Health in Belgium says the risk of missing a few positive cases is relatively low. Evidence indicates that if a test is done after a week, 88% of positive cases of Covid are detected – compared with 96% if you test after two weeks. One million people have now died of Covid-19 and cases continue to rise in Europe. In better news the WHO has announced the rollout of 120 million rapid diagnostic tests in low-income countries where it’s hard to get a test. Boston University’s professor of Global Epidemiology Matt Fox explains about promising research into the Mediterranean diet and about surgery for a type of snoring that causes sleep deprivation. We also hear from a former Afghan refugee - now working as a doctor in the UK – who’s passing on advice about treating coronavirus via text to doctors in his home country. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Paula McGrath (Picture: A teenage girl in a mask showing a 'stay home' message written on her hand. Photo credit: Ti-ja/Getty Images.)