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.

Nearly 3,000 delegates from around the world are gathering this week in one of the most expensive cities in Europe to debate the fate of the World Health Organization.

There's one main question on the table: Will the WHO be given the power and money it needs to be the world's leading health agency, or will it plod forward in its current state — as a weak, bureaucratic agency of the U.N. known more for providing advice than taking action.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is not only airborne and lethal; it's one of the most difficult diseases in the world to cure.

In Peru, 35-year-old Jenny Tenorio Gallegos wheezes even when she's sitting still. That's because of the damage tuberculosis has done to her lungs. The antibiotics she's taking to treat extensively drug-resistant TB nauseate her, give her headaches, leave her exhausted and are destroying her hearing.

"At times I don't hear well," she says. "You have to speak loud for me to be able to understand."

A couple of toy planes are out to catch illegal loggers and miners in the Amazon.

It's an awesome responsibility.

Every year, illegal logging and mining in the Peruvian Amazon destroy tens of thousands of acres of rain forest. The deforestation in remote parts of the jungle is difficult to detect while it's going on.

Is it the mercury or the malaria?

Or maybe it's something else entirely that's making people sick in the Peruvian Amazon.

Those questions are bedeviling researchers from Duke University who have been studying gold mining in the region. Illegal mining has exploded in the area in the past decade, and the people living downriver have a variety of medical issues, from malaria to anemia to high blood pressure.

Gold has been a blessing and a curse for Peru for centuries. In the 16th century, one of the first Spanish explorers to arrive, Francisco Pizarro, was so enthralled by the mineral riches that he took the Inca king hostage.

The plastic orange mesh fences that once separated Ebola patients in the "red zone" from visitors in the "green zone" have collapsed. Corrugated metal roofing sheets flap in the wind. Some of the tents that served as isolation wards are still in good shape, but many of the tarps used as partitions are torn and frayed.

His mother named him Moses, but the story of Moses Lasana over the past year unfolds more like the story of Job: Adversity follows tragedy only to be topped off with pain.

Last summer, Moses Lasana's girlfriend, who was nine months pregnant with his child, got Ebola and died. He has two sons; one of them also got sick and died. Then he came down with the disease.

In September, Moses Lasana was cured of Ebola. That should have been good news for the 30-year-old Liberian. But his suffering continues.

They were the ones who went door to door to stop the spread of Ebola. They were accused of passing on the virus and had water hurled at them. They were the community health workers — the unsung heroes of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia.

On the northern side of Monrovia, a team of nurses is vaccinating children on the veranda of the AfroMed clinic. Tables with boxes of rubber gloves and vaccine coolers are arranged in the shade out of the intense, tropical sun.

A mother rocks her crying baby, who has just been jabbed with a measles shot. Martina Seyah, who brought her 2-year-old daughter, Irena, to get the shot, says parents in the neighborhood are very worried their children could get measles or other diseases.

In the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, Phyllis Omido knew that industry could pose a danger to the surrounding communities. She'd worked on environmental impact assessment reports for several factories.

But when her 2 1/2-year-old son, King David, got sick with a mysterious condition, it didn't occur to her that it might be from environmental toxins. He had a high fever that wasn't responding to medication. He couldn't sleep. He was plagued with diarrhea, and his eyes became runny. He spent two weeks in the hospital, and still no one could figure out what was wrong.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The headlines tell a lot about the crisis in Yemen: internal strife, evacuations of international aid workers, Saudi Arabian airstrikes.

But you may have one very basic question that you can't easily find an answer for: How big is Yemen, anyway?

You can look at maps and check out Wikipedia but wouldn't it be great to just to slap an outline of Yemen on top of a map of the United States to get a sense of its size?

IfItWereMyHome.com lets you do just that.

When Alex Tran went off to Sierra Leone to work as an epidemiologist, his parents were worried. His mom was "a wreck," according to his sister Jen, who followed him into the Ebola hot zone a few weeks later.

Last fall as the Ebola outbreak raged in West Africa, Alex, 28, was working at USAID. Jen, who's a registered nurse, was deployed with the U.S. Navy on a ship in the Arabian Gulf. They both were itching to get to the front lines of the epidemic to help.

A new study finds a disturbing trend in the battle against malaria. There are highly effective drugs called artemisinins — and now resistant malaria is turning up in parts of Myanmar, the reclusive country also known as Burma, where it hadn't been seen before.

Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the three countries where polio transmission has never been brought to a halt.

Now Nigeria may be leaving this unfortunate club.

In 2006 the West African nation recorded more than 1,000 cases of polio-induced paralysis. Last year it had only six; the most recent was in July.

"This I believe is the first time in history that they've gone this long without having a case," says Gregory Armstrong, chief of the polio eradication branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hundreds of U.S. troops, sent to help fight Ebola in West Africa, are now coming home. That's the news from the White House today.

Did they make a difference?

Not in the way you'd think. The grand plans to build 17 new field hospitals in Liberia and train thousands of health care workers, announced in September, didn't quite come off. Several of the hospitals weren't needed and were never built. Others opened after the epidemic had peaked and were practically empty. Only a fraction of the promised health workers were trained.

Ebola was the Hurricane Katrina for the World Health Organization — its moment of failure. The organization's missteps in the early days of the outbreak are now legendary.

At first the agency that's responsible for "providing leadership on global health matters" was dismissive of the scale of the problem in West Africa. Then it deflected responsibility for the crisis to the overwhelmed governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. After eight months, it finally stepped up to take charge of the Ebola response but lacked the staff and funds to do so effectively.

As debate mounts in the U.S. over whether or not to require measles vaccinations, global immunization rates show something interesting: Many poor countries have far higher vaccination rates than rich ones.

Something is destroying the kidneys of farm workers along the Pacific coast of Central America. Over the past two decades, more than 20,000 people in western Nicaragua and El Salvador — mostly men and many of them in their 20s and 30s — have died of a mysterious form of kidney failure. Researchers have been able to say definitively that it's not diabetes or other common causes of kidney failure.

GAVI asked and the world gave.

GAVI is the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. At a conference in Berlin today, the nonprofit group asked for help in meeting its goals of vaccinating 300 million children in low income countries against potentially fatal diseases.

The response was extraordinary: a total of $7.5 billion pledged to cover GAVI's 2016-2020 efforts.

Seven years ago, Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez Aldana went to jail in El Salvador. She was initially charged with abortion but prosecutors elevated the charge to aggravated homicide, arguing that the fetus was viable. Vasquez always contended that she did not have an abortion but had lost her unborn son due to medical complications late in the pregnancy.

Noncommunicable diseases have become the leading killers around the globe. In 2012, two-thirds of all deaths worldwide were the result of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory infections. The mortality rate from noncommunicable diseases was even higher in low- and middle-income countries.

What is it that's most likely to kill you? The World Health Organization says that in the 21st century, it's your lifestyle.

And it's not just a Western problem.

Throughout the Ebola outbreak the two big questions have always been: How bad is this going to get? And when is it going to end?

Current data show that the numbers of new cases are dropping in all three of the hardest-hit West African countries. A new study predicts Ebola could be eliminated from Liberia by June.

But Ebola specialists are leery of predictions, even from the most reputable of sources.

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.

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