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How to make surgery safer

Ask 40,000 surgeons from around the world what they would pick to scientifically investigate and what do they choose? They voted for a new trial to establish whether changing to new surgical gloves and clean instruments just before abdominal wounds are closed up during surgery, would reduce infection. Thirteen thousand operations in seven countries later (in Benin, Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa) the answer to the most common complication of surgery is in, and the results are published in the journal, the Lancet. Co-author Aneel Bhangu, senior lecturer in surgery at the University of Birmingham, tells Claudia how the findings of this apparently simple step, will change surgical guidelines around the world.

We all have a space around us that we claim as our own. If anybody comes too close, we feel uncomfortable or even threatened. But what has social distancing and the pandemic done to our personal space? Science writer David Robson reports from one of the biggest brain sciences conferences in the world, Neuroscience 2022 in San Diego on new research, using virtual reality, that revealed, surprisingly, that our personal space had shrunk. But, crucially, while our personal force field has reduced, it’s also hardened. And according to the study, David says, we’re now much less tolerant if this new, reduced 'peripersonal distance' is breached.

And BBC global health correspondent, Naomi Grimley, joins Claudia in the Health Check studio and reports on the challenge to China’s Zero-Covid strategy as coronavirus cases rise; Africa’s first conference on the disabling condition club foot and a new study on acupuncture for pregnant women with lower back pain.

Presenter: Claudia Hammond
Producer: Fiona Hill

(Picture: Operating theatre staff wearing scrubs, one helping the other put on gloves. Photo credit: Jochen Sand/Getty Images.)

Genetic disease and US abortion bans

Ayoka from Atlanta, Georgia in the U.S. is desperate to have a baby and her family is helping to pay for her IVF treatment. But Ayoka knows that she carries a serious genetic condition, Fragile X, which she doesn’t want to pass on to her children. She tells Claudia Hammond what it means to know that she would be prevented from having an abortion, even if pre-natal testing revealed her unborn baby had the inherited condition. That's because the state of Georgia, up until yesterday when the ban was successfully challenged in court, has restricted termination after six weeks of pregnancy. This restriction is too early for genetic testing to have taken place. So what will she do if the ban is reinstated?

Lebanon has experienced profound economic, financial and civil shocks in recent years as well as absorbing almost a million and a half refugees, a third of its total population. The strains on its infrastructure are acute and for the first time in almost thirty years, there have been outbreaks of cholera, claiming lives of young and old alike, just as there is a global shortage of cholera vaccines. Lebanon’s Minister of Public Health, Dr Firass Abiad, tells Claudia about the steps that are being taken to treat, vaccinate and restore vital infrastructure to stop the disease spreading.

And the BBC’s Science and Health Correspondent, James Gallagher, brings the latest medical findings, including how armadillos showed that the leprosy bacterium can regenerate organs, how children’s different births cause different microbiomes and different reactions to vaccinations and which smells give you a better night’s sleep.

Presenter: Claudia Hammond
Producer: Fiona Hill

(Picture: A pregnant woman lying down. Photo credit: Brooke Fasani Auchincloss/Getty Images.)

Psychological nudges for HIV treatment

South Africa's anti-retroviral programme to treat HIV infection is the largest in the world with 5.5 million people in treatment. It’s transformed this disease from an automatic death sentence, to something that can be managed as a chronic illness and the government is determined to expand the programme and get more people with HIV in treatment. It’s an ambitious plan and Claudia Hammond hears how psychological tools called "nudges", drawn from behavioural economics, are being used and tested as low-cost interventions to persuade more people into treatment. Dr Sophie Pascoe, Co-Director of South Africa’s first HIV nudge unit, Indlela, describes how the new techniques are being used.

And the plight of the Covid-19 shielders. Shannon is so vulnerable to catching the virus that she has lived apart from her husband and teenage daughter for almost two years. What’s it like having your life on hold and not being able to hug or kiss your loved ones? And Matt Fox, Professor of Global Health Epidemiology and Boston University joins Claudia to discuss the increase in cholera outbreaks and the shortage of vaccines and the new UK trial to manufacture blood in a laboratory.

Image: Beaded HIV/AIDS ribbon brooch among beaded South African flag keyrings, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Credit: Neil Overy/Getty Images)

Presenter: Claudia Hammond
Producer: Fiona Hill

Livers that live longer than we do

Claudia Hammond discovers that some livers have the potential for extraordinary longevity and after a long life in a transplant donor, can survive for many more years in a transplant recipient. Livers over one hundred years old, called centurian livers by researchers, have been identified and many are still going strong. The new study has important implications for the future of liver transplants because donated organs from some older-age people were also found to last longer than those from young-age donors, a finding that Dr Christine Hwang, from the University of Texas in the USA and study co-author, tells Claudia upturns conventional thinking about the healthiest livers to transplant.

The accuracy of forehead thermometers as well as pulse oximeters on darker skin is an issue that's received widespread attention, but what about the medical need to accurately measure skin pigmentation for psoriasis, eczema, skin cancers and other health conditions? Dr Ophelia Dadzie from the British Association of Dermatologists and the Hillingdon Hospital in London has been developing a scientific way to measure skin colour. Her method uses eumelanin, a skin pigment, and she's created a new scale to objectively assess peoples’ skin colour.

And BBC correspondent, Dr Smitha Mundasad, joins Claudia and reports on the growing Ebola outbreak in Uganda, the risks of herbal supplements on our livers and brings the latest evidence on the health benefits of the weighted blanket.

Presenter: Claudia Hammond
Producer: Fiona Hill

(Picture: A doctor Transporting a Human Organ for Transplant. Photo credit: Photographereddie/Getty Images.)

Long Covid – the latest

Health-threatening fungal infections are on the rise and the World Health Organisation identifies the pathogens which pose the greatest risk to human health. Dr Graham Easton, family doctor and Professor of Medical Education at Queen Mary, University of London, tells Claudia how growing resistance to anti-fungal medication resistance, just like antibiotic resistance, is making the problem even worse. Graham also highlights growing health concerns about the recreational use of the drug Nitrous Oxide or laughing gas around the world.

One hundred and fifty million people are thought to have Long Covid, debilitating symptoms which persist long after Covid-19 infection, yet the condition is still little understood. To spell out what we do, and don’t, know about Long Covid, a patient and a professor have got together to write The Long Covid Handbook. Patient advocate and film maker Gez Medinger and Professor of Immunology at Imperial College, London, Danny Altman, describe the gaps in medical knowledge and the impact on sufferers of the slow progress on diagnostics and treatment.

A recent survey in Chile revealed mental health to be the top health concern in the country. Jane Chambers reports on a Santiago charity called the Itaca Foundation, finding great success by pairing up vulnerable younger people with older people for mutual support.

Presenter: Claudia Hammond
Producer: Fiona Hill

(Picture: A woman resting after running with a protective face mask in the city. Photo credit: Drazen Zigic/Getty Images.)

5 episodes