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BBC World Service - Health Check

Health Check

Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.

Health Check

  • Can Warnings Help Texting Pedestrians Safely Cross Roads?
    In the US alone last year more than 5000 pedestrians were killed on the roads and there were 70,000 pedestrian injuries involving motor vehicle collisions. Distraction – and texting in particular - has been identified as a key risk factor, with studies showing that cell phone use impairs pedestrian and driver attention. So Pooya Rahimian and researchers at the University of Iowa are trying to come up with warning systems on our cell phones that can help pedestrians cross safely. One such system uses the kind of technology that is used in driverless cars, which can detect and locate every car in the vicinity. It sends an audio cue to texting pedestrians if they are about to walk out in front of a car. The results of the experiment have just been published in the journal Human Factors. Drug overdose deaths have seen a sharp rise over the last few years - particularly in North America and Europe - so much so that the problem is now frequently referred to as "the opioid crisis". Some countries have adopted an approach known as harm reduction; using safe injecting rooms and needle exchange programmes for heroin users, to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and other infections passed on through needles. But now, in the face of the threat posed by fentanyl, a vastly more potent synthetic opioid than morphine, which is often mixed with street drugs, advocates of the harm reduction approach say the time has come to go a step further and prescribe injections of medical grade heroin to addicts. A pioneer in this is the Providence Crosstown clinic in the Canadian city of Vancouver, Canada, which is the only clinic in North America licensed to prescribe medical grade heroin. The BBC’s Jatinder Sidhu reports. Health Check has previously talked about the importance of sleep for our health. And how if you persistently don’t get enough sleep or if you do night shifts, the long term consequences for health are harmful, with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke. But a huge new study from South Korea, just published in BMC Public Health, has found that spending too long in bed might also be a problem, especially for women. Researchers looked at metabolic syndrome, which involves a combination of symptoms such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Claire Kim, the lead author, is a research scientist at the Seoul National University College of Medicine. (Photo: Using mobile phones while crossing the road. Credit; Getty Images)

  • Keyhole Surgery for Hip Impingement
    The World Cup is starting this week and a condition that affects around one to two footballers in each national squad is femoroacetabular impingement syndrome (FAI), also known as hip impingement. Often misdiagnosed as a groin strain, the problem is actually with the hip joint itself and the way it develops in the growth phase of our early teenage years. We are born with a round ball in a round socket, but sometimes the ball becomes more egg-shaped or is not perfectly round, which means it jams in particular places in the socket. This can cause damage to the cartilage and labrum leading to pain in the hip joint. One option is physiotherapy, surgery is another, but it is a major operation and has a long recovery time. So Damian Griffin, Professor of Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Warwick, and an international team have been developing a new keyhole surgery technique, which has now been tested against physiotherapy in a large randomised control trial. The results have just been published in the medical journal The Lancet. "The exercise of singing is delightful to nature, and good to preserve the health of man". Four hundred years ago the English Composer William Byrd knew something that researchers working in the 21st century have now confirmed with evidence; that singing is good for our health, both mentally and physically. The latest findings were on display at the National Centre for Early Music in York in the North of England. The BBC’s reporter Jack Meegan went to find out more and experience the joys of singing for himself. There is no part of the body that gets left out of Health Check. A German urologist called Dr Oliver Gralla is determined that men should become more comfortable about talking about their penises, and that they should care for them better. His new book Happy Down Below was prompted by some of the more unusual cases he came across working night shifts in the emergency room; cases where sex had gone very wrong. But he also found in his every day work – most commonly helping men experiencing erectile dysfunction or hormonal problems - they many did not seem to know much about their anatomy. (Photo: Hip Pain. © Getty Images)

  • Potential Blood Test for Ten Cancers
    If a doctor suspects cancer is behind a patient’s symptoms blood tests and scans can help to detect tumours. Tiny bits of tissue can also be extracted in biopsies – to see how advanced the disease is. Detecting cancer early offers a better chance of a cure. So news of a potential blood test to detect ten different types has been welcomed this week. Bacteria are capable of changing – so that they become resistant to antibiotics aimed at treating disease. Antibiotic resistance is growing against tuberculosis – a disease which was diagnosed in more than 10 million people in 2016. In India an innovative technique is being used to get people to take their tablets – and cut the risk of antibiotic resistance. Encouraging people to be healthier can involve gentle persuasion or giving some kind of incentive. Harnessing the most visceral of emotions – disgust – might not seem an obvious approach. Professor Val Curtis from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has carried out an online survey in order to categorise the commonest types of disgust in order to harness its effects to fight against the spread of disease – such as encouraging people in India to install toilets in their homes. (Photo: Pancreatic cancer cells. Credit: Getty Images)

  • Outbreak of Nipah Virus in India
    India is tackling an outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus. It has claimed at least 13 lives so far in the southern state, Kerala. The WHO has Nipah on its list as one of eight diseases that could cause a global epidemic. Alison van Diggelen investigates the safe place that a barber shop can provide for vulnerable people. The conversational nature of the barber’s chair may benefit mental wellbeing by letting the customers talk about their worries in a familiar environment. 40% of adults report that they have trouble falling asleep at least a couple of times a month. Common worries about the day’s events and what lies ahead can result in restlessness and low sleep quality. A new study shows that writing a to-do list before bed may help you to nod off faster. (Photo: Indian residents wear face masks outside a Medical College hospital in response to the Nipah virus outbreak © Getty images)

  • 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)