Nurith Aizenman

The Zika outbreak is aggravating an already tense relationship between Venezuela and Colombia. In Colombia, more than 37,000 people have fallen sick. Venezuela reports fewer than 5,000 cases — a number that Colombian officials find suspiciously low.

Juan Bitar heads the health department of a state in Colombia that shares a long border with Venezuela. "A lot of people who are sick with Zika in Venezuela are coming [to Colombia] for medical attention," he says.

Johann Castro Hernandez is an 18-year-old college kid who loves playing soccer. Only these days, he can barely lift his legs, let alone kick a ball. His body looks weirdly thin, with no muscle tone. His movements are slow and tentative.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Two weeks ago, Jenny Tolosa found out she was pregnant.

The 23-year-old had no idea. "I didn't have any symptoms," she says. "I totally didn't expect this." She giggles, because she was excited by the news.

But she was also worried. She says her first thought was, "I think I had Zika last December!"

That's the mosquito-borne virus that's spreading through Latin America — and has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly, which causes an abnormally small head and possible brain damage.

If you're a government official, you don't want to get a call from Cees Klumper's office.

Because there's a good chance what you'll hear is basically this: "Either you send us back the money that was misused in the past, or we'll deduct double the amount from your future grants. It's your choice."

The current Zika outbreak got its start in Brazil, and that country is still the epicenter of the outbreak. But could the situation in neighboring Venezuela be nearly as bad?

That's the charge being made by some doctors' groups, who claim the Venezuelan government is vastly underestimating the number of cases. The government estimates that around 3,700 people have likely been infected with Zika since the outbreak began last year.

Maybe El Niño isn't as bad as its reputation.

El Niño is an ocean-warming phenomenon in the Pacific that crops up every few years and alters world weather patterns. And the world is in the middle of a big El Niño that roughly began in May 2015 and will continue for at least several more months this year.

This El Niño has already been linked to a series of weather-related disasters: Massive flooding in Paraguay. Drought in Ethiopia. Another looming food crisis in Madagascar and Zimbabwe.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa may be officially over — the World Health Organization made that momentous announcement Thursday, but more cases are likely to crop up and crucial questions about the disease remain unanswered. We asked Dr. Daniel Bausch, an expert on Ebola who is now working with the World Health Organization, to list the top five mysteries researchers still need to clear up.

What if your friend bragged that she'd just bought a brand of jeans because she'd checked out the company's practices and made sure they were ethical — no child labor, no polluting the environment by the manufacturer.

Maybe you'd thank her for the info, even be inspired to change your own buying habits.

But a study suggests a lot more of us would have an opposite reaction: "Boy," we'd think, "that friend is 'preachy' and 'less fashionable.' "

When a poor country is hit with a sudden catastrophe — say, an earthquake or a tsunami — the world is quick to send aid.

But a slow-moving disaster, the kind that unfolds over weeks or even months, is another story. There are no immediate, dramatic TV images, no screaming headlines.

And that means it's really tough for aid groups to raise the money needed.

Just ask John Graham. He's the head of the aid group Save the Children, and he's watching a slow-moving disaster unfold in Ethiopia as the world remains largely oblivious.

It's evening rush hour at a street market in the city of Pune, India. Fifteen-year-old flower seller Aniket Sathe is in his element — bargaining with customers, catching up with friends who drop by. They gossip about school, check out the motorbikes whizzing past and dream up crazy schemes. Like, what if they could get ahold of the balloons that the woman next to Aniket is selling?

Aniket points to a nearby building and grins. "If we took as many balloons as would fit in there and tied them to your hand you could fly in the sky," he says.

How do you get boys to treat girls as their equals?

The question is an urgent one in India – where women face some of the world's highest rates of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Many groups are trying to combat the problem with programs to empower girls and women. But the founders of a non-profit called the Equal Community Foundation, or ECF, contend that's only half the answer: They say, you also need to change the mindset of boys.

The United States spends more on international aid than any other nation — more than $32 billion a year. Yet it has come in near the bottom of a newly released ranking that scores the wealthiest nations according to how much they help the world's poorest people.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the famously generous Scandinavian nations lead the pack — Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada rank fairly high as well. The United States, by contrast, falls 21st out of 27 — just behind Hungary, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic.

What if you could never get a good night's rest? Some low-income people around the world face that challenge. A team of researchers is investigating whether sleep deprivation keeps some in poverty. (This piece originally aired on All Things Considered on Dec. 2, 2015.)

It's 11 at night in a busy commercial section of Chennai, a city of nearly 5 million in Southern India. All around me people are sleeping in the open air. Men are curled up in the back of rickshaw wagons. Entire families camp out in shelters made of cardboard and tarp. A woman in a blue sari smiles and waves for me to come over.

She tells me her name is Anjalai — like some in this part of India, she goes by only one name — and says she's got the most basic setup: a woven blue mat laid out on a patch of dirt by the side of the street.

Blame it on France.

China is the most troubling example of a government using national policy to engineer the size of its population with its decades-long one-child policy.

But the idea has its roots in late 19th century France. And it was expanded on in the mid-20th century by scholars in the United States, who helped create the environment of overpopulation fear in which Chinese leaders adopted their draconian approach.

Mahendra Sharma is director of an unusual charity: It's effectively a boarding school for child brides. It's called the Veerni Institute and it provides free room, board, health care and schooling to about 70 girls from villages surrounding the northern city of Jodhpur. Child marriage is a long-standing practice in these villages, and about 30 of the students at Veerni are already married. They may be as young as 9 or 10 when they are married, but normally they aren't sent to live with their husbands until around age 15.

Nimmu is 15 years old. She comes from a rural village in northern India, and she's been married since she was 10.

This year she's trying to change her fate.

In Nimmu's village, when you're married young, you don't move in with your husband right away. You stay with your own parents until around your 15th birthday. That's when they send you to your in-laws.

From what Nimmu has seen, you basically lose your freedom at that point. The in-laws assign whatever chores they see fit. And you're expected to follow their orders without question or complaint.

Some Western parents worry whether vaccines for their kids are spaced too closely together. The last Republican presidential debate fueled anxiety over the issue.

Once again, health experts have been rushing in to reassure parents that the schedule for vaccinating children is not only safe but medically necessary.

If you fall seriously ill in Poland you can count on good care at a private hospital but should probably steer clear of the public ones.

In Botswana, an otherwise survivable road accident could prove deadly owing to lack of good care. But in some areas of neighboring Namibia there's a decent chance emergency medical personnel can stabilize you.

And if you have a heart attack, your ticker should be in good hands in Sao Paulo.

It's an open secret among journalists: When reporting a major news story in an unfamiliar country, it's great to have a "fixer."

That's the catch-all term we use for our local guides to language and logistics — the people who can translate documents, interpret during interviews and generally help you figure out the most efficient and the safest way to get from one location to the next.

In 2000 the world's leaders agreed on an ambitious plan to drastically reduce global poverty by 2015. Called the Millennium Development Goals, the targets spurred an unprecedented aid effort that brought lifesaving medicines and vaccines to millions of people and helped slash the share of people in the developing world who live in extreme poverty from 47 percent in 1990 to 14 percent today.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

When Elynn Walter walks into a room of officials from global health organizations and governments, this is how she likes to get their attention:

"I'll say, 'OK, everyone stand up and yell the word blood!' or say, 'Half of the people in the world have their period!' "

It's her way of getting people talking about a topic that a lot of people, well, aren't comfortable talking about: menstrual hygiene.

It seems like a no-brainer: Offer kids a reward for showing up at school, and their attendance will shoot up. But a recent study of third-graders in a slum in India suggests that incentive schemes can do more harm than good.

You get a visit by someone you've never met before. You're invited on an all-expense paid trip to your country's biggest city for a two-day meeting on natural gas policy.

Oh, and if you show up you get a free cellphone!

It might sound sketchy. But it's actually an innovative strategy that is being tested by researchers at a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, the Center for Global Development, or CGD, to help the African nation of Tanzania decide how to spend its expected windfall from new discoveries of natural gas.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, more about the woman who's building the case against those six officers. Marilyn Mosby is 35 years old. She just took the office of chief prosecutor in Baltimore four months ago. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports.

West Africa is about to receive a hefty infusion of cash. This Friday the World Bank unveiled a major aid package for the three West African countries at the center of this past year's Ebola epidemic.

How often does this happen: You're listening to a news story describing some problem halfway around the world and you say to yourself, "I know how to fix that!" It's not your area of expertise. It's not a place you know. But you are sure that if you went there you could solve the problem.

Michelle Niescierenko is a pediatric emergency physician at Boston Children's Hospital. But for the past five months she has been in Liberia, helping the country's 21 public hospitals get back on their feet after the devastating Ebola outbreak there. She says the challenges they face are shocking.

"Almost all the hospitals that we worked with in Liberia are running on generators," she says. The trouble with generators is that they require fuel.

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