BBC World Service

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Health issues and medical breakthroughs from around the world.


Yellow Fever Outbreak in Angola Worsens Vaccine Shortage

April 13th, 2016

Episode 83 of 158 episodes

The outbreak of yellow fever in the African state of Angola – where 242 people have died - has now spread to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. There is an effective vaccine that prevents yellow fever and a huge vaccination programme in Angola has already inoculated six million people. But there are just four facilities in the world producing the vaccine which is still made from an 80 year old method, using hens’ eggs. Some fear that the demand for the vaccine will outstrip supply but William Perea, who’s the coordinator of the Control of the Epidemic Diseases Unit at the WHO says they are confident that they have enough. Some of the folklore about health turns out to be true – but there are some myths too. This week sleep expert Matthew Walker, who’s Professor of Neurology at University College London, explains whether it’s a good or bad idea to exercise just before you go to bed. One in three children who live in Cameroon are malnourished – which causes stunting and ill health. The larvae of the Africa palm weevil are a good source of nutritious protein. But in the past harvesting them from forests has meant cutting down the raffia palms where they live, destroying much of their habitat. But now scientists have found a more environmentally-friendly way of cultivating the grubs – which are creamy in colour, about the size of an adult thumb and with a black stump as a nose. In the markets of the capital Yaounde, the grubs are selling for record prices – around 5 US dollars for a small pot containing 10 grubs. this morning looking for palm weevil grubs – making them more expensive than chicken or fish. John Moufor, the founder of the Living Forest Trust charity, keeps the palm weevil larvae in plastic boxes with some raffia palm. In four weeks’ time they are ready to eat – either raw or cooked. One of the pilot projects he is supervising to farm the grubs is in Obout, a small village 3 hours’ drive from the capital. Michel Tsoungui used to be a grub hunter – now he’s a grub farmer he can make more money and save time because he doesn’t have to travel to the forest. The village nurse in Obout, Mbede Dioudone, says that palm weevil grubs are a complete food and if everyone ate grubs there wouldn’t be any malnutrition. Michel’s children wait patiently while his wife places a bowl of freshly cooked grubs in front of them – seasoned with local spices. If the pilot project is successful the grub farming methods could be used across sub-Saharan Africa. Every day in the United States 91 people die from gun violence. Scientists are keen to reduce this toll – by understanding who is most at risk of gun violence such as victims of domestic violence or children who accidentally fire a gun they find at home. But an amendment passed 20 years ago blocks government funding of such research, which used to be carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now doctors and medical professionals are campaigning to change the law. A coalition of 141 medical organisations has sent a letter to that effect. Alice Chen, who’s the Executive Director of Doctors for America as well as a practising physician, believes that if research was allowed it would save lives. (Photo: A huge Yellow Fever vaccination programme is underway in Angola and already six million doses have been given. Credit: EPA)

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