Nurith Aizenman

When the pandemic first hit, Hitesh Hurkchand had one overriding concern: How do I protect my mother?

Hurkchand lives in Boston. His mother, Thulja, was in South Africa. She was a widow, living at an assisted living facility. And she had diabetes, hypertension, and heart issues.

Thinking about how hard it was going to be to keep Thulja safe, Hurkchand would fall into bouts of despair. "Oh my god, I mean it was like every other day," he recalls.

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The open market of the coronavirus vaccines has left countries like South Africa in a bind as they try to figure out a way to protect their citizens. NPR's Nurith Aizenman explains.

Ever since the coronavirus reached the U.S., officials and citizens alike have gauged the severity of the spread by tracking one measure in particular: How many new cases are confirmed through testing each day. However, it has been clear all along that this number is an understatement because of testing shortfalls.

Now a research team at Columbia University has built a mathematical model that gives a much more complete — and scary — picture of how much virus is circulating in our communities.

How to make sure the world is never so devastated by another pandemic?

Health officials from around the globe have been vigorously discussing that question over the past week at the annual meeting of the World Health Organization's Executive Board. The members, whose nine-day-long, mostly virtual gathering concludes on Tuesday, have heard recommendations from four separate panels.

Exactly one year ago today, the World Health Organization first learned of a cluster of a few dozen pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China of "unknown" origin. The cause, of course, would turn out to be the coronavirus behind the current pandemic. Here's a by-the-numbers summary of the toll the virus has taken on countries across the globe since that fateful day.

Full disclosure: As someone who grew up the big sister to a brother, I have a bit of a stake in the subject of this article. It's a new study that suggests big sisters can make a powerful difference for their younger siblings.

But there's no such personal angle for the authors of the study: economists Pamela Jakiela and Owen Ozier of Williams College in Massachusetts. "No! I'm an only child," Jakiela says with a chuckle. "And Owen is an older brother."

Among the promises that President elect-Biden is expected to fulfill immediately upon taking office: lifting a ban that President Trump imposed on U.S. foreign aid dollars related to abortion.

When Steve Davis considers the prospects of the world's poorest citizens he is filled with .... hope. The reason: Five promising trends that, he says, are gaining steam even amid deeply worrisome developments that get much more attention.

What are the biggest drivers of human suffering?

Every year an international team of researchers aims to answer that question by assembling a mammoth data set called the "Global Burden of Disease." It has become the go-to source for tracking and ranking the impact of virtually every disease or condition that is killing, sickening or otherwise disabling people in virtually every country on the planet.

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.

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