Marc Silver

Every year, Stephen Lim and his colleagues at the University of Washington compile and analyze health data from every country on the planet to come up with a sort of global report card.

Year after year, one of the biggest success stories has been the vaccination of children.

"We've really seen this steady progress in increasing the fraction of children who are receiving ... in particular, the basic vaccines — diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis," Lim says.

Each week, we answer "frequently asked questions" about life during the coronavirus crisis. If you have a question you'd like us to consider for a future post, email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: "Weekly Coronavirus Questions."

OK, so I'd planned a flight to visit my grandkids last week because with cold weather and the flu season looming in the U.S., it seemed like late summer/early fall might be a good window of opportunity to travel.

"You aren't going to have the year you thought you'd have."

That's what a nurse told my wife and me after my wife was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. The cancer news came as a shock, as it often does. There were no warning signs. The tumor was picked up on a routine mammogram.

It was hard to take in what the nurse was telling us. We had plans and projects and dreams for the months ahead. Then suddenly — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation were the top items on our agenda.

We were mad. How dare cancer interfere?

Dr. Paul Farmer, professor of medicine at Harvard University, has spent three decades helping poor countries fight devastating diseases – from tuberculosis to cholera to Ebola to Zika. As co-founder of Partners in Health, he works to strengthen health-care systems in Haiti (where the group started), Malawi, Rwanda and other low- and middle-income countries, where he's seen what works – and what doesn't work – when disease strikes.

Yes, washing your hands provides excellent protection against coronavirus (and other pathogens).

But you do need to scrub with soap for 20 seconds to remove those pathogens. That's what the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and many hand-washing experts recommend.

Twenty seconds is a long time when you're standing at a sink. The common advice is to wash as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice or the ABC song. If you don't rocket through the lyrics, you should get about 20 seconds of scrub time.

You may wake up, look out the window and be struck by how things seem pretty normal.

Spring is coming, trees are flowering, birds are chirping.

And if you go to the kitchen to make breakfast and see that someone in your household left dirty dishes in the sink, you'd be peeved.

Wuhan is a ghost town, yet there are still definite signs of life.

That's the status of this city of 11 million, which has seen strict quarantine measures imposed in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus disease.

As of Feb. 10, every compound, or residential complex, in Wuhan has been put under "closed-off management" orders by the government.

The goal is to keep healthy people from getting infected by going out and about.

It was quite a decade.

Ebola swept through Africa as never before – and has returned again just this past year.

Polio was almost wiped out – but not quite.

The issue of menstruation became a headline topic.

And a selfie debate began --- what are the ethics of posing for pictures in developing countries.

Sure, everybody thinks it's great when a story is read by many hundreds of thousands of folks. That's definitely a success.

But what about stories that don't get a lot of pageviews? Maybe the headline just didn't catch a reader's eye. Or maybe there was so much news that day that the story slipped through the cracks of the internet and tumbled into digital oblivion.

When childhood cancer is diagnosed early and treated effectively, the survival rate is impressive. In the United States, for example, the five-year survival rate for children with cancer is 80 percent.

Welcome to 2030!

We asked some social entrepreneurs – people who've created projects to make the world a better place – to predict what they hope to accomplish in the not-too-distant future.

They are tackling a range of daunting issues: child sexual abuse on the internet, youth unemployment, mental health crises, counterfeit drugs, lack of access to medicine. Some of them have founded nonprofit groups, others are hoping to make a profit as they do good. To get up and running, they've relied on a mix of government money, donations, grants, fees from companies that buy in.

Leah Feldman is on Ebola duty — again.

The young Maryland trauma nurse is a veteran of the Ebola wars. She worked on the Doctors Without Borders team in Guinea in 2014 and 2015.

She happened to be in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, working on a cholera vaccination project, when a case of Ebola was reported in a remote part of the northwest in April.

If someone were to tell you their job was a burden, you might feel sorry for that person.

So when Consolata Agunga told me, "I feel good because I have the burden of serving my people," I was puzzled.

How can a burden make you feel good?

You can't help but note that of the six winners of the 2018 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, five are women.

"I'm the odd man out," jokes Harish Hande, an awardee for his SELCO Foundation, which works to provide solar power systems at low cost to the poor in India.

Don't mess with other civilizations.

That's the "prime directive" in Star Trek and countless other sci-fi works. Of course, visitors to other planets get it wrong — a lot. Sometimes, they meddle in inappropriate ways and disaster ensues.

So what does this have to do with global health?

Well, here on Earth, doctors and medical students are flocking to programs where they spend a couple of weeks to months volunteering in what's called a "low-resource" country. In these places, medical expertise and technology may lag behind richer nations.

OK, so maybe you're one of those people who don't wash their hands even after going to the bathroom because your dad never did and he never got sick.

Or you think a three-second hand scrub is more than enough.

Or you squirt on some hand-sanitizer and figure you've done your duty.

I have some news for you.

There's a new study out on norovirus and the role hand-washing can play in stopping an outbreak.

To sum it up: Wash up!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the Liberian elbow bump.

When Ebola overtook the West African country in 2014, many people were afraid to shake hands and embrace in the customary way. That's understandable, because Ebola is spread by the exchange of bodily fluids during body-to-body contact.

So Liberians came up with a less touchy-feely greeting. They bumped elbows.

What happens after a cancer diagnosis?

That's the question investigated by a study published by the CONCORD program on cancer survival published on Tuesday in The Lancet. The study looks at patient records for adults and children diagnosed with a variety of cancers in 71 countries. The records are from 2010 to 2014. The goal is to compare five-year survival rates, a number used to assess effectiveness of treatment.

By looking at the number of page views for our stories from 2017, we came up with our most popular stories of the year.

But there are other ways to measure success.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in September and has been republished with updates about the U.N. investigation of extreme poverty in Alabama and other U.S. locations.

The United Nations is investigating extreme poverty in the U.S.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.

With a string of devastating natural disasters and record numbers of refugees, 2017 has been a cruel year.

So it's a year when, more than ever, we need World Kindness Day.

The November 13 holiday was made up in 1998. So it doesn't have deep roots in human society.

Oct. 11 is the "International Day of the Girl" – proclaimed by the U.N. as a time to look at the challenges girls face and to promote their "empowerment" and human rights.

What kind of year has it been for girls? We looked at the stories we've done over the past year, and the headlines alone captured both the tragedies and the triumphs. In many ways a horrible year for girls. But even at the bleakest moments, there are stories of hope and triumph.

Here is a sampling of our stories about the world's girls:

Before "Goats and Soda" was born, I wrote a story for our sister blog, "The Salt" about the world's largest tree fruit. The jackfruit can grow as big as 100 pounds. It's a good source of protein, potassium, vitamin B and fiber. Plus: It's easy to grow in tropical climes. There was even a symposium devoted to revving up production and marketing. So how's that going?

I knew it was time to do a follow-up story on jackfruit when I went shopping in Trader Joe's and saw 20-ounce cans of "Trader Joe's Green Jackfruit In Brine." For only $1.99!

Shhh, we just can't talk about that.

Omigosh: We. Just. Don't. Do. That.

If you haven't guessed, we're talking about taboos.

Taboos are part of every culture, every family, every circle of friends.

We're planning to explore taboos in an upcoming series of stories. We'd like to hear from our audience about taboos they've encountered in the world of global health and development.

So tell us: What global taboos should we consider? Share your ideas in the tool below.

Goats and Soda is NPR's global health and development blog. We tell stories of life in our changing world, focusing on low- and middle-income countries. And we keep in mind that we're all neighbors in this global village.

It sounds like a fairy tale. A benefactor gives you a million dollars to make a wish come true.

Only it can't be a selfish wish. The TED annual award goes each year to an "exceptional individual with a creative and bold vision to solve a timely, pressing problem." (TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "ideas worth spreading" and sponsors the TED talks aired on NPR's TED Radio Hour.)

"Water was the biggest thing," says journalist Tim McDonnell of the scene at the refugee settlement of Palorinya in northern Uganda. Since December, 146,000 South Sudanese have crossed the border, fleeing the violence of the civil war. And without enough water to drink, they would quite literally die.

In truth, there is no way to come with a 100 percent accurate count of all the health workers who have died since the conflict in Syria that began six years ago this month.

That's because it takes a lot of checking to verify a death — Physicians for Human Rights, for example, wants to know the victim's name, job, the location and date of death and the cause of death. And they want three sources who can back up the account.

It started with a poster he made at Kinko's and displayed at his wedding in May 2007: Would guests donate to help start a new kind of health care program in Liberia?

He got $6,000.

Now he's won a million dollar prize for his efforts.

Do you know any global health stories that should be getting coverage — but are overlooked by the media?

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