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Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.

Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.


London, United Kingdom




Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.




Double threat of Covid-19 and flu

There’s some progress of trials for potential Covid-19 vaccines – but doctors in the United States are also keen to avoid citizens getting infected with another virus: influenza. Manufacturers have been asked to make 10% more vaccines than last year because of a fear that a surge in coronavirus during the flu season could overwhelm hospitals. Dr Litjen Tan from the Immunization Action Coalition hopes that everyone will get the jab. Many thousands of people have lost loved ones during the...


Faster cheaper Covid testing in Rwanda

In lower income countries, shortages and costs of Covid-19 testing kits undermine the efforts to keep the virus under control. But Rwanda is now implementing a new form of pooled testing which can identify all infected individuals in a population without testing everyone, and it does so at tiny fraction of the cost. It was devised by Prof Wilfred Ndifon and Prof Leon Mutesa in Kigali. Taiwan has been one of the countries that has most effectively kept its population safe from the spread of...


Covid-19: Steroid drug reduces deaths

Some good news at last – A widely available drug can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus. It cuts the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. Claudia Hammond discusses the results with Clare Wilson from the New Scientist. In the hunt for a treatment for Covid-19, health workers will take chloroquine as part of a large trial that is about to start. Claudia talks to Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, director of research at the University of Witwatersrand, South...


Covid-19: Second waves

South Korea and Japan both saw cases of Covid-19 rise again after they had fallen and Iran is experiencing a rise again now. Sometimes this is a referred to as a second wave or a second peak. Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine at the University of Oxford explains the difference between second waves and peaks and how to reduce the chances of them happening as countries emerge from lockdown. The number of deaths from Covid-19 is forcing all of us to...


Pain and the brain

Pain has long been recognized as something of an enigma by scientists and clinicians. It's both a measurable physiological process, as well as deeply personal and subjective. Claudia Hammond meets scientists attending a British Neuroscience Association symposium on pain and the brain. She talks to the so called "queen of pain", Professor Irene Tracey of Oxford University, about how research into acute and chronic pain is being addressed. We hear from Professor Ulrike Bingel about the...


Covid-19 in DRC

Health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are coping with two disease epidemics, Covid-19 and Ebola. In April the country was preparing to celebrate the end of the Ebola outbreak that had killed more than two thousand people, when another seven cases appeared. And Covid has been in the DRC since March. Robert Ghosn, Head of Operations for the Red Cross in the DRC, tells Claudia Hammond how health workers have learnt to deal with Covid from the Ebola outbreak. Ebola survivor and Red...


Escalating Covid-19 infections across Brazil

Health Check has the latest on the management of coronavirus in Brazil, now the epicentre of the pandemic in the Americas, where cases of Covid-19 have been rising rapidly and the mayor of São Paulo has warned that the city’s health system could collapse. BBC correspondent Katy Watson explains how people are responding to some of the mixed messages they’re getting. Also in the programme, the hopes for convalescent plasma therapy: Jeff Henderson, co-leader of the world largest convalescent...


Stem cell therapies unproven for Covid-19

Unproven and unlicensed stem cell therapies for Covid-19 are being marketed by a number of small companies in the United States. Bioethicist Leigh Turner of the University of Minnesota tracks the questionable claims and safety record of this direct-to-consumer sector of the biotech market. He says he is concerned that in the current climate of coronavirus anxiety, more people will be vulnerable to wasting thousands of dollars on treatments that do not work and may put their health at risk....


Should we wear face masks?

Does the wearing of face masks by the public prevent the transmission of coronavirus in the community? Professor Robert West of University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology has participated in a review of more than 20 studies on this important question. The analysis concludes that the evidence is equivocal. In other words, based on current evidence, Prof West feels we cannot say whether mask wearing is a beneficial thing to do. It cannot be ruled out that masks may in fact increase...


Smoking and Covid-19

In the US the FDA warned that if you were a smoker and contracted the virus you might become sicker than non-smokers. But meanwhile a new French study suggested that smokers were less likely to get the virus, and that nicotine might even protect them from it – which all leaves smokers in a tricky position. Claudia Hammond explores this research with Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and Chair in Behavioural Research for Cancer Prevention at Cancer...


Covid-19 in Italy

Italy is one country which had hospitals in some regions overwhelmed by the spike in cases just a few weeks ago. Claudia talks to John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology and Population Health at Stanford University about his analysis of what the rest of the world can learn from Italy’s experience. Many people living in lockdown will be feeling isolated. One of the academics who led the recent BBC Loneliness Experiment, Professor Pamela Qualter with her colleague from the...


The impact on doctors and nurses of making difficult medical decisions

When hospitals are overcrowded with Covid-19 patients and doctors have to prioritise who to treat first it can leave them with feelings of “moral injury” – putting them at risk of developing mental health problems. The feelings of anger, shame and guilt can result in irritability and adopting a negative slant on life. Making difficult decisions quickly is seen a lot in the armed services. Neil Greenberg, Professor of Defence Mental Health at Kings College London, explains how he's applying...


The retired doctor who’d want to die at home if he got Covid-19

We hear from a retired doctor in the UK who says he wouldn’t want to take up an intensive care bed if he got seriously ill with Covid-19. Breathing problems can result from the infection – especially in the elderly – so respirators are in demand. 69 year old Dr Lyn Jenkins is in good health – but wants critical care beds to be prioritised for young people and palliative care to be provided for anyone who wants to die at home. Studio guest Professor Matthew Fox from Boston University explains...


Tracking diseases like Covid-19 that leap from animals into humans

In this discussion recorded in 2017 on a farm in Dong Thap in the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City’s Factory Contemporary Arts Centre we hear how Vietnam’s agricultural economy makes it easy for diseases to spread to humans. Claudia Hammond and Ha Mi hear from the farmers affected by the 2004 outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. Things have improved but only a third of those involved in slaughtering animals have any protective equipment – so many are at risk of breathing in virus...


Coronavirus update

As South Africa goes into lockdown what measures are they taking? Plus big data in Taiwan and a round-up of drug trials, antibody testing and low cost ventilators. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald (Image: Microscopic view of influenza virus cells. Photo credit: Panorama Images/Getty Images.)


What have we learnt from Sars?

Claudia Hammond revisits a discussion she recorded in the summer of 2019 in Hong Kong, talking to some of the key players in the Sars epidemic in 2003. She hears how the novel virus was first spotted and how the medical and global health community rallied round in the fight to conquer it. The similarities with the situation today are startling, but have we learnt the key lessons from how SARS was handled? Claudia also speaks to Professor David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and...


Alcohol: How drinking less will help you live longer

Claudia Hammond talks to Professor David Nutt about his new book on the science of alcohol and hears some top tips for cutting down. She hears why alcohol is the second biggest cause of death worldwide and why managing how much you drink could add months or even years to your life. Claudia talks to Dr Terence Leung of University College London who has developed an app that could prevent deaths in newborns by more easily detecting jaundice. Finally we hear from people who are finding personal...


The maths of coronavirus

Claudia Hammond hears the latest from the US who have so far lagged behind other countries in testing for coronavirus. She also talks to mathematician Dr Hannah Fry about how numbers are playing such an important part in the fight against Covid-19. Finally, she talks to cough expert professor Jacky Smith at the University of Manchester, about the issue of chronic cough. For some people, coughs with no obvious cause, can go on for years and severely disrupt lives. However, a new drug that has...


How life drawing helps us to understand anatomy

As the Covid-19 virus spreads through Iran, Italy and Tenerife we answer listener questions about how to reduce the risk of getting infected with the virus. Many people are buying face masks - but do they work? And do hand-gels get rid of the virus as much as regular handwashing, with soap and water? Professor Jonathan Ball from the University of Nottingham in the UK is our expert. Life expectancy in rich countries has been rising for years. But a new report shows that for the first time in...


Why is Covid spreading so quickly on cruise ships?

We hear what could be behind the rapid spread of the coronavirus on board a cruise ship near Japan. Dr Nathalie MacDermott from Kings College, London suggests an investigation should look at the air filtration and sanitation systems and whether a “deep-clean” was carried out in communal areas. She also says sheer exhaustion could be behind the rising number of healthcare workers infected in China – one mistake when removing personal protective equipment could infect them. A new trial of...