Jason Beaubien

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.

In this role, he reports on a range of health issues across the world. He's covered mass circumcision drives in Kenya, abortion in El Salvador, poisonous gold mines in Nigeria, drug-resistant malaria in Myanmar and tuberculosis in Tajikistan. During 2014, he reported extensively on the West Africa Ebola outbreak. His current beat also examines development issues including why Niger has the highest birth rate in the world, can private schools serve some of the poorest kids on the planet and the links between obesity and economic growth.

Prior to becoming the Global Health and Development Correspondent in 2012, Beaubien spent four years based in Mexico City covering Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In that role, Beaubien filed stories on politics in Cuba, the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the FMLN victory in El Salvador, the world's richest man and Mexico's brutal drug war.

For his first multi-part series as the Mexico City correspondent, Beaubien drove the length of the U.S./Mexico border making a point to touch his toes in both oceans. The stories chronicled the economic, social and political changes along the violent frontier.

In 2002, Beaubien joined NPR after volunteering to cover a coup attempt in the Ivory Coast. Over the next four years, Beaubien worked as a foreign correspondent in sub-Saharan Africa, visiting 27 countries on the continent. His reporting ranged from poverty on the world's poorest continent, the HIV in the epicenter of the epidemic, and the all-night a cappella contests in South Africa, to Afro-pop stars in Nigeria and a trial of white mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea.

During this time, he covered the famines and wars of Africa, as well as the inspiring preachers and Nobel laureates. Beaubien was one of the first journalists to report on the huge exodus of people out of Sudan's Darfur region into Chad, as villagers fled some of the initial attacks by the Janjawid. He reported extensively on the steady deterioration of Zimbabwe and still has a collection of worthless Zimbabwean currency.

In 2006, Beaubien was awarded a Knight-Wallace fellowship at the University of Michigan to study the relationship between the developed and the developing world.

Beaubien grew up in Maine, started his radio career as an intern at NPR Member Station KQED in San Francisco and worked at WBUR in Boston before joining NPR.

When Dr. Ian Crozier arrived in West Africa this past summer, he was stepping into the epicenter of the Ebola hot zone. The American doctor was working in the Ebola ward of a large, public hospital in Sierra Leone's dusty city of Kenema.

The trip nearly cost him his life. First came a fever, then a severe headache. "My first thought was, 'Oh, I must have missed a few days of my malaria prophylaxis,' " Crozier recalls.

Between the rugged terrain and the constant terrorist threats, vaccinating Pakistani children against common diseases hasn't been easy. Mountains make it hard — at times even impossible — for vaccinators to reach people in the north. In the south, health workers have to use four-wheelers and camels to travel through Pakistan's harsh deserts.

Here's what it takes to design a better Ebola suit: a roomful of university students and professors, piles of canvas and Tyvek cloth, sewing machines, glue guns ... and chocolate syrup.

Even Youseph Yazdi, head of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID), still isn't sure what the syrup was for.

In Southeast Asia, the battle against malaria is growing even more complicated. And it's all because of monkeys, who carry a form of malaria that until a few years ago wasn't a problem for people.

The soccer coach is giving his team a pep talk: "This is not an ordinary game," he declares as he paces in the locker room. "This is life or death. Ebola has defeated thousands in West Africa. Its key strength is passing."

Sometimes you stumble across statistics that just scream at you. I was looking this week through some reports on the Liberian Ministry of Health's website. The screaming statistic was an "8" listed as the number of people "currently in treatment" at the ELWA 3 Ebola treatment unit run by Doctors Without Borders in Monrovia.

It's a bunch of guys sitting around talking.

About the benefits of birth control.

About how a woman should take care of herself when she's pregnant.

About breast-feeding.

You know, the kind of things guys never talk about.

There are 12 of them, sitting in a circle under a tin roof. Some wear long, colorful tunics. Their flip-flops are scattered around the outer edge of the carpet. They're part of the "School for Husbands" program in the village of Chadakori in the West African nation of Niger, the country with the highest birth rate in the world.

Obesity used to be an issue primarily in well-off countries. It was one of those things flippantly dismissed as a "first-world problem." Now people are packing on the pounds all over the planet. In some fast-growing cities in China, for example, half the people are now overweight.

"This is not just one case," says Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It's a cluster." He's talking about the Ebola situation in Mali, where two people have likely died of the disease in Bamako, the capital, and two others have tested positive.

Hundreds more may have been exposed. Officials from the U.N., the World Health Organization, the government of Mali and the CDC are all calling for swift action to keep Mali from descending into the Ebola chaos that's hit neighboring Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Jonas Salk was born on October 28, 1914 in New York City. Google is celebrating the birth of the man who developed a polio vaccine with a special Google doodle.

During the fervor of the current Ebola outbreak, it seems like a good moment to tip our hats to one of the heroes of an earlier epidemic. Salk developed a vaccine for polio in 1953. At a time polio was sweeping across the United States crippling children and terrifying parents.

The usually staid New England Journal of Medicine is blasting the decision of some states to quarantine returning Ebola healthcare workers.

One of the biggest roadblocks in West Africa to containing the Ebola outbreak is the lack of isolation wards for people who are infected.

President Obama has announced plans to build 17 new Ebola Treatment Units in Liberia. Those new medical facilities will require thousands of additional workers who are trained and willing to work in them.

Dr. Gabriel Logan is a bundle of energy. Wearing a yellow dress shirt untucked from his slacks, he races around the Liberian government hospital compound in Tubmanburg, north of the capital, Monrovia.

He also moves fast on the medical front, experimenting with his own idea of treatment for Ebola patients.

Back in July this hospital, which was the main medical facility for the region, was closed after 10 of the staffers got sick with Ebola.

"We sent them to Monrovia," he says. Of the 10, only one survived.

Christina Quintanilla's nightmare with El Salvador's abortion law began on Oct. 26, 2004.

Quintanilla was 17 at the time, and seven months pregnant with her second child. She was living in her mother's apartment, and that night, she couldn't get comfortable. Her belly was bulging, her back was aching, and her stomach was upset.

The World Health Organization is reporting that the Ebola virus has yet to be contained in West Africa. It's one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in decades — with over 500 cases, some 330 of which ended in death.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The White House announced that the CIA will stop using fake vaccination programs to further its spy operations. The decision comes after leaders from U.S. public health schools brought the practice to light.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In the past month, Middle East respiratory syndrome has morphed from a little-known disease in the Arabian Peninsula to a major global health concern, with more than 300 cases in Saudi Arabia in April, 54 of them fatal.

Two cases have been reported in the U.S. as well — one in Indiana and one in Florida. Both men had worked in Saudi Arabia hospitals. So far, neither has spread the respiratory disease to others.

Malaria has proved one of the hardest diseases on the planet to treat. The World Health Organization estimates there are nearly 200 million cases each year, and the parasitic infection is blamed for some 700,000 deaths annually.

It is, says the World Health Organization, "an extraordinary event." Polio is spreading to a degree that constitutes a public health emergency.

The global drive to wipe out the virus had driven the number of polio cases down from 300,000 in the late 1980s to just 417 cases last year. The World Health Organization has set a goal of wiping out polio by 2018.

UPDATE at 4:17 p.m. Friday: Saudi Arabia has confirmed 313 cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, including 92 deaths, the Ministry of Health said Friday. Of note, one of the 14 new patients caught the virus while working as a hospital receptionist.

There's growing concern that the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome may have entered a new phase in the way it's spreading in Saudi Arabia.

The country has reported a sharp uptick in MERS cases over the past week. Since the deadly respiratory virus was first detected in September 2012, a total of 244 cases have been found in Saudi Arabia. About 50 of those cases were reported in the past six days.

Neighboring United Arab Emirates has also reported a rise in cases in the past week.

International development aid has hit an all-time high, despite some nations dramatically slashing their foreign assistance budgets. As patterns of international assistance shift, an increasing amount of money is being invested in improving health in the developing world.

One year ago Pavel Rucsineanu was running out of options.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis was ravaging his lungs. And the disease had evolved into an incurable form, doctors said.

It's like an "infectious cancer," Dr. Tetru Alexandriuc said at the time. "We have no other medicines" to treat Pavel, the doctor added. Although he wouldn't say it, the doctor expected TB would kill Pavel.

Spot the next plague before it arrives. Predict the next swine flu outbreak before it makes headlines. Even detect a biological weapon before it's launched.

These are the goals of an ambitious initiative, launched Thursday, to build a worldwide surveillance system for infectious diseases.

As countries modernize around the world, they're increasingly being hit with one of the curses of wealth: cancer.

There are about 14 million new cancer cases globally each year, the World Health Organization reported Monday. And the trend is only getting worse.

The global burden of cancer will grow by 70 percent over the next two decades, the WHO predicts, with an estimated 22 million new cases and 13 million deaths each year by 2032.

The world is in the midst of a porcelain revolution.

Nearly 2 billion people have gained access to clean toilets, or at least a decent outhouse, since 1990, the nonprofit UNICEF reports Thursday.

That rise in sanitation has led to big health improvements, the agency says, because contaminated drinking water is still a major cause of disease and death for children.

People are getting fatter around the world. And the problem is growing most rapidly in developing countries, researchers reported Friday.

"Over the last 30 years, the number of people who are overweight and obese in the developing world has tripled," says Steve Wiggins, of the Overseas Development Institute in London.

Poor countries are starting to realize something that richer ones sometimes forget: Basic, inexpensive measures can have dramatic impacts on the health of a country. And they can save thousands of lives.

Take, for instance, the situation in Ethiopia.

The country used to have one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world.

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. Numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we're living in, right now. Over the next two weeks, you'll hear the stories behind numbers, ranging from zero to 1 trillion.

The lowest number of polio cases ever recorded in the world during one year was 223. And 2013 was on track for an even lower number.

The death rate from malaria dropped by 45 percent globally between 2000 and 2012, the World Health Organization reported Wednesday. In Africa, the rate fell by almost half.

Despite this progress, the mosquito-borne disease remains a serious problem in the developing world, said Dr. Robert Newman, who heads WHO's global malaria program. There were more than 200 million cases of malaria in 2012, and the disease killed an estimated 627,000 people last year.

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