Nurith Aizenman

Even as the number of new coronavirus infections continues to spiral upward in countries around the world, a top global health expert says it's not too late to contain the virus.

"As long as you have these discrete outbreaks ... there is the opportunity to control them — to get on top of these and contain them and prevent a lot of disease and ultimately death," says Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the director-general of the World Health Organization. "That's the big message we saw in China — and one of the big surprises."

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When it comes to the spiraling global coronavirus outbreak, scientists are still trying to pin down the answer to a basic question: How deadly is this virus?

Estimates have varied widely. For instance, at a Feb. 24 news conference in Beijing, a top Chinese health official, Liang Wannian, said the fatality rate for COVID-19 was quite high.

"Between 3 to 4% of patients have died," said Liang.

Three years ago, NPR accompanied disease ecologist Kevin Olival on a field trip to Malaysian Borneo.

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The number of people who are infected with the new coronavirus that is spreading from China is dwarfed by those affected by a far more common respiratory illness: seasonal flu.

Every year there are as many as 5 million severe flu cases worldwide and hundreds of thousands of deaths. By contrast, so far there have been about 20,000 (and rising) cases of coronavirus, most of them mild.

Just a few months ago, Tom Inglesby helped gather top officials from governments, businesses and health organizations around the world to play a kind of war game.

"It was a scenario looking at global consequences of a major new epidemic," says Inglesby, who directs the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University.

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Last fall, Félix Tshisekedi, the president of Democratic Republic of Congo, made a triumphant prediction: Before 2019 was over, the Ebola outbreak that had ravaged his country for more than a year would finally be brought to a close. Already, health workers had managed to quash the Ebola virus in all but a small set of remaining hot zones. New infections had slowed to a trickle.

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Dr. Marie-Roseline Bélizaire had just gathered the members of her Ebola response team for a morning meeting when they heard the rat-a-tat of gunfire.

As holiday donations kick off with this Giving Tuesday, we're going to bring up an aspect of contributing to charity that makes a lot of us ... uncomfortable.

We're talking about the idea that every time we divvy up our money among good causes, we're making a moral judgment: Who is most deserving of our help and which outcomes are most valuable?

Over the past decade there has been a surge of interest in a novel approach to helping the world's poor: Instead of giving them goods like food or services like job training, just hand out cash — with no strings attached. Now a major new study suggests that people who get the aid aren't the only ones who benefit.

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In the Democratic Republic of Congo, efforts to end an Ebola outbreak have been hampered. After a surge of violence, the World Health Organization pulled a third of their Ebola responders. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports.

In the United States, drugmakers have flooded the market with powerful, sophisticated opioids. And that's fueled an epidemic of addiction. But across Africa many patients can't afford even mild painkillers — let alone medications to help people in extreme pain.

Uganda has come up with a solution that goes back to basics with one of the world's original painkillers: morphine.

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The work is dirty, dangerous ... and thankless.

Sanitation workers in lower income countries often endure grueling conditions to perform a service that's vital to keeping their communities healthy. Yet their suffering has largely gone ignored — even by advocates for the poor.

Almost as soon as the e-cigarette maker Juul launched in the Philippines this past June, Maria Encarnita Limpin started noticing the product in shops all over the capital Manila.

"It's like they mushroomed," she says.

Limpin is a doctor specializing in lung disease and also directs a nonprofit that has helped push though rules preventing the marketing and sale of cigarettes to minors in the Philippines. So she was particularly horrified to see how visible Juul's vaporizers are in areas where children are likely to see them.

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Editor's note: This is an updated version of a story that was published on June 27, 2019.

At a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly this week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stated that abortion is not an international human right.

He criticized any efforts to "promote practices like abortion in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus."

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The doctors and nurses who work in the heart of the Ebola outbreak zone in Democratic Republic of the Congo say they've had enough. For weeks they've been subjected to threats of violence and even actual assaults. On Wednesday they gave the government an ultimatum: Improve security within one week or we'll go on strike.

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Editor's note: This post has been republished with updates to reflect the latest count of new cases of Ebola in Congo.

This week the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo took a worrisome turn: The number of people reported sick each week has started to rise precipitously.

Compared to mid-February, when the tally of new cases had been brought down to as low as 24 per week, the figures for this most recent week are on track to double — bringing the total number of infected over the last eight months to nearly 1,000.

The aid group Doctors without Borders is suspending its work in the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The move comes after two separate attacks on its treatment centers there. The organization says, at best, it will be weeks before it returns.

"When I send my teams I need to be sure that they are going to come back alive," says Emmanuel Massart, the on-the-ground emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the region. "The attacks were really, really violent."

The first took place last Sunday night.

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