Editors’ Choices: Our Faves from 2018

Sleeping sickness in the Central African Republic. Image: Alvaro Ybarra Zavala/Getty Images
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Sleeping sickness in the Central African Republic. Image: Alvaro Ybarra Zavala/Getty Images

Every morning, we look for the stories that make us sit up straight in our chairs and send chills down our back.

Gifted reporters all over the world often inflict those twin conditions on us. And we're happy to share them with you.

Today, we share—after much deliberation—our picks for the best global health stories of 2018.

Prepare for better posture and a chilled spine.


Quiet Triumph for a Troubled Land
“If you were going to try to stamp out a lethal disease, you wouldn’t want to be doing it here,” writes Sarah Boseley of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s efforts to eliminate sleeping sickness.
For decades, the response to sleeping sickness meant using a drug called melarsoprol that killed 5-10% of patients. Congolese experts like Victor Kande lobbied WHO and donors for better diagnostics and medications. They also sent mobile screening teams to find people infected and treat them—driving down the number of cases from 30,000 in 2000 to 1,100 last year. And they worked with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative on a new drug, which the European Medicine Agency approved earlier this year.
The Quote: “On the TV they talk more of the war in the east than the medical success story,” said Erick Miaka, the head of DRC’s sleeping sickness program.
It’s a must-read and one the best examples of solutions journalism applied to a global health issue.
The Guardian

Laos’ Stolen Brides
When Yami’s parents realized their 11-year-old had been kidnapped from her bed, they didn’t call the police; they didn’t post fliers.
They knew what had happened.
For many Hmong girls in Laos, marriage means abduction by bands of bride-stealing young men. The kidnappings are a deeply embedded tradition, and many girls know their captors. That doesn’t make it any less traumatic or devastating for the child brides.
Corinne Redfern’s fascinating report for The Lily—the namesake reboot of the mid-1800s newspaper by and for women—is a show-stopper. She captures the resignation in Yami’s sister reaction: “She didn’t wake her parents because she knew her father agreed with the tradition. ‘I thought he’d be angry with me for saying no and running away.’ These days, she crosses the road to avoid groups of men, and at school, she’s one of only four girls left in her class.”
The Lily (The Washington Post)
Points of Contact
As suicide rates continue their 2-decade climb in the US, some therapists and researchers are revisiting the work of Jerome Motto, who sent simple follow-up letters to people who had attempted suicide. Like Motto, today’s researchers are seeing dramatic reductions in suicides among those they reach with texts, emails and postcards.
It’s hard to envision scaling up the approach for the millions of people who consider suicide every year, especially as insurance companies don’t reimburse for such messages. But this riveting article—and the accompanying essay by someone who lives with suicidal urges—are powerful reminders of the need for authentic human connection in health care.
Death by Birth
In an investigation that involved sifting through more than a half-million pages of internal hospital records, USA Today reported that more than 700 women die giving birth each year—and that half of the deaths could be prevented by following basic safety practices.  
The project details cases where dangerously high blood pressure wasn’t treated properly and excessive internal bleeding went undetected—with deadly results.
The piece includes an audio of an American Hospital Association closed-door training session for maternity staff that addresses maternal deaths. “We’re not talking about a Third World country, we’re talking about us, here,” the trainer says. “This shouldn’t be happening here.”
USA Today

The Ultimate Cosmo Quiz
This handy guide to how birth control access is being threatened across the US wins top marks not just for the information it provides, but because its practical and personalized approach symbolizes a welcome new era in women’s magazines quizzes.
Teen and unintended pregnancies are falling in the US, but access to affordable or free contraception is increasingly at risk—and exactly how varies from state to state.
This Cosmo guide has some concrete tips, like assessing your own risk of losing access, reading up on the policies specific to your state—and your local pharmacy—and knowing what to do when your BC is blocked.

Related: The Truth About IUDs – Marie Claire

No ‘We’ Without ‘Them’
In 2018, the world watched destruction from unprecedented droughts, typhoons and fires—all chalked up to climate change. Lest we forget: Climate change is global warming caused by industrialization and primarily driven by those least likely to be affected by its consequences.
But global warming is often couched as the fault of “humanity,” a conveniently broad accusation. This skirts the history of industrialization, especially in Africa where, writes Gabrielle Hecht, “both responsibility and vulnerability are unevenly distributed.
Climate conversations must acknowledge these and other grim truths. It must also “require thinking from, and with, Africa,” writes Hecht. “There is no planetary ‘we’ without them.”

PS — In a year of outstanding reporting on climate change, Nathaniel Rich’s "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change" in the New York Times Magazine was another standout stunner.

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