Nurith Aizenman

Fans of the television series The Great British Bake Off have long marveled at the skill contestants show during the dreaded "technical challenge" — for which they are given a basket with all the ingredients needed to make a highly unusual dish but a set of instructions that are often as vague as, "Bake until ready." Now a team of scientists at a pharmaceutical startup in South Africa is essentially confronting the same type of test — except the stakes are life and death.

Eleven days ago, Dr. Akbari was at her clinic in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif when she got a call that made her drop everything. It was a member of the Taliban who had been threatening her from afar for months because she had given a birth control shot to his 13-year-old bride.

"This time, his voice was actually really soft," recalls Akbari. "He said, 'We're entering the city. Soon we'll come and get you.' "

Since 2015, NPR has been following the efforts of a charity in Northern India that has an interesting solution to the problem of child marriage. It's called the Veerni Institute and it offers village girls who are child brides — or who are at risk of being married off young — the chance to continue their high school education. The institute runs what is effectively a boarding school for these girls in the city of Jodhpur.

When it comes to COVID-19 in Africa, there were mixed signals from Africa on Thursday.

The World Health Organization reports that after eight consecutive weeks of surging cases across the continent, there's finally been a reversal. The total number of confirmed new cases in Africa fell by 1.7% to nearly 282,000 in the past week. And it's worth noting that this represents only 8% of new cases worldwide.

There's mounting research to suggest that protecting people who are immuno-compromised from getting COVID is important not just for their sake – it could be critical in the effort to end the pandemic for everyone.

The evidence comes from two separate strands of studies.

Dr. Laura McCoy has been doing the first type. She's an infectious disease researcher at University College London.

"The group of people that I'm particularly interested in are those living with HIV," she says.

When COVID-19 cases surged in Malawi in January, Alinafe Kasiya's family was hit hard. The disease killed his sister — a healthy, gregarious woman who was the heart and soul of their clan — just before her 44th birthday. Then another sister who had cared for the first came down with symptoms. Then Kasiya's 13-year-son got sick while at boarding school. Kasiya wasn't even allowed to visit the boy while he recovered.

"It was a nightmare. The whole situation was a nightmare," he says.

It seems incredible: At a time when low-income nations are clamoring for vaccines against COVID-19, at least three countries — Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and South Sudan — are either discarding doses or giving them to other countries. What's going on?

Editor's note: As noted in this article, research is ongoing into the efficacy of various vaccines against the different variants. This piece reflects the state of knowledge as of its publication date, Friday, April 9.

Editor's note: This is the latest update of a story that NPR has run on several occasions after mass shooting events in the United States. It was last published on Aug. 5, 2019.

The horrific mass shooting events in Indianapolis, the Atlanta area and Boulder, Colo., this year have once again shone a spotlight on how frequent this type of violence is in the United States compared with other wealthy countries.

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.

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.

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