Jason Beaubien

The oral polio vaccine may go down in history as one of the most powerful public health tools of modern times. Developed by Albert Sabin in 1961, the vaccine is cheap, easy to administer and has pushed polio to the brink of extinction.

The joke is that if you can "count to two" you can vaccinate kids against polio. That's because all it takes is squeezing two drops of the vaccine into a child's mouth.

This week, the carpeted halls of the Philadelphia Marriott echoed with a patois of West African French, Liverpudlian English and Brazilian Portuguese as researchers from around the globe converged for the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).

The convention covers a wide range of tropical diseases, but malaria got the lion's share of attention.

Tuberculosis is now killing more people each year than HIV, according to new data from the World Health Organization.

WHO estimates there were almost 10 million new cases of TB last year; the disease caused 1.5 million deaths. By comparison, 1.2 million lives were claimed by HIV.

That makes TB the No. 1 infectious killer.

Polio is in its final days.

The disease that once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of kids a year around the globe is now down to just a few dozen cases this year. "We are aiming to halt all transmission of wild polio virus next year," says Peter Crowley, the head of UNICEF's global efforts against polio.

If polio is stopped, it will be only the second human disease to be eliminated. Smallpox was the first — the last case was in 1977.

A Scottish nurse who recovered from Ebola in January has been medevaced from Glasgow to London in a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane specially equipped for infection control.

Doctors say Pauline Cafferkey is suffering "an unusual late complication" from her previous Ebola infection. They note that "Pauline previously had the Ebola virus and this is therefore not a new infection."

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Pope Francis, addressing the U.N. General Assembly today, urged international cooperation not only to solve humanity's largest problems but to save humanity itself.

Quoting a speech to the U.N. by his predecessor Pope Paul VI in 1965, Francis said of the world today: "The real danger comes from man...."

He stressed that humans have a moral duty to protect the earth, saying that it is the creation of God and humans don't have the authority to abuse or destroy it.

At the United Nations General Assembly this weekend in New York, U.N. member states are set to adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals. The goals are meant to guide development priorities around the globe over the next 15 years. Critics and supporters alike are declaring them to be highly ambitious — maybe even too ambitious.

The SDGs, as they've come to be called in humanitarian lingo, replace the Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted in 2000 and expire this year.

The oil-rich West African nation of Angola has a dubious distinction. Its child mortality rate is the world's worst: 157 kids out of every 1,000 die before their 5th birthday. By comparison the child mortality rate in the U.S. is 7 deaths per 1,000. In Europe it's between 3 and 4.

Malaria sickens tens of millions each year and kills roughly 500,000, mainly in Africa. A vaccine has been seen as the holy grail in global efforts against the disease.

Don't kiss your chickens!

That's the message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is blaming a salmonella outbreak on backyard chicken owners being overly affectionate with their flocks.

The CDC says more than 180 people have come down with salmonella across the U.S. this year from contact with backyard poultry. Thirty-three of them became so sick they required hospitalization.

Nigeria is on the verge of being polio-free. And that would mean that for the first time ever there's no ongoing polio transmission on the African continent.

As South Koreans continue to struggle with the worst outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, ever recorded outside the Middle East, their comrades to the north say, "We've got a cure for that!"

The World Health Organization says there's no known cure or vaccine for MERS, but state-run media in Pyongyang reports a wonder drug called Kumdang-2 will do the trick. The report makes no mention of whether Pyongyang is going to offer this miracle compound to its neighbor to the south. Or as the news agency puts it: "the Korean puppet authorities" in Seoul.

Ebola has dug in its heels.

Despite dramatic drops in the overall numbers of reported cases, Sierra Leone and Guinea are still struggling to stop the deadly disease.

Case tallies in both countries have dipped towards zero in the past few months, only to bounce back up. Sierra Leone reported 14 new cases this week and Guinea counted 10.

Blame it on the camels.

When scientists first detected Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2012, the big question was: Where is this virus coming from?

For several years, scientists hunted the deadly virus across the Arabian Peninsula, and eventually they found at least one source — dromedary camels.

Should the world be in a panic about MERS?

That's the global health question of the hour. South Korea is trying to get control of an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome. Officials have now confirmed 30 cases of the disease and two deaths. One of the patients traveled to China and remains hospitalized there. More than 1,000 people are now under quarantine in Hong Kong, China and South Korea as a result of the outbreak.

There's fear that MERS could be the next SARS, the respiratory virus that swept through the region in 2003, claiming hundreds of lives.

A man died of a hemorrhagic fever in New Jersey this week. This by itself is fairly unusual in the Garden State. Making the case even more odd was that the man was being monitored for Ebola by New Jersey health officials, and the case should have been caught earlier.

The events expose a hole in a public health system meant to track potential Ebola cases.

The 55-year-old New Jersey resident worked in the mining industry and traveled frequently to West Africa. Two weeks ago he landed at JFK International Airport after a flight from Liberia.

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."

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:

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.

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