Nurith Aizenman | WYPR

Nurith Aizenman

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.

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.

Domestic violence is never OK. Yet in 29 countries around the world, one-third or more of men say it can be acceptable for a husband to "beat his wife." Perhaps more surprising: In 19 countries, one-third or more of women agree that a husband who beats his wife may be justified, at least some of the time.

Officials and activists from around the world gathered in New York this week to mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1995 World Conference on Women.

Although there were a lot of depressing statistics discussed at the current meeting, there was one piece of good news that many kept citing as reason for hope: Since 1995 the rate of women worldwide who die in childbirth has dropped by more than 40 percent.

Midtown New York City is buzzing with thousands of women's rights activists. They're in town for a milestone session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which runs through the end of next week.

How's this for a tough first week on the job: An earthquake rocked Haiti just five days after physician Rajiv Shah took over as head of the main U.S. agency for overseas disaster relief. The death toll was about 200,000. The U.S. was scrambling to mobilize a response. And President Obama decided Shah should be the one to lead it.

"The president called and said 'Raj, I hope you'll make us proud,'" Shah recalls of the 2010 disaster. "And I felt a deep passion and commitment to do that. So I was excited. But I was also frankly overwhelmed by the amount of work we had to do."

For six weeks, American doctor Kwan Kew Lai kept a blog, almost every day, while she volunteered at an Ebola treatment center in Liberia.

Ebola treatment centers are isolated, self-contained worlds, with their own grim rhythm: Every day, people stream in, terribly sick. And in the space of a few days, they either live or they die. Then the next wave arrives. Because the risk of infection from Ebola is so high, access to the ETUs has been severely limited. So we've had only brief glimpses into them.

Tomorrow Morning Edition will broadcast an audio documentary based on a blog by American doctor Kwan Kew Lai. Starting last October, Dr. Lai wrote almost every day, for six weeks, while volunteering at an Ebola treatment center in Bong, Liberia.

The news is filled with stories of people in need. Perhaps they've just lived through an earthquake. Or they're war refugees. Or they're facing a deadly epidemic like Ebola.

Your heart goes out to them. And you're gratified that your government and other major donors are stepping in with a massive infusion of cash and other aid.

But how do we know if all that help is actually, well, helpful.

If you think the fight against Ebola is going well, here's a grim new number: 537.

That's how many new infections were reported in Sierra Leone in the past week. It's the highest weekly tally in any country since the West African outbreak began.

International governments and aid groups have scrambled to open Ebola treatment centers in the country. But, because of safety concerns, many of these centers are accepting only a fraction of the number of patients they were built to serve.

Ebola is on the rise in Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown. Just this week, 234 new confirmed infections were reported, and every day hundreds of residents call the emergency line to report more possible cases in their neighborhoods.

To deal with the surge, the nation sends health surveillance teams into the community to investigate the alerts, visiting up to five homes a day to check on residents.

The junior member of one team is Osman Sow, a young man with a wisp of a beard and a serious manner.

One reason the Ebola virus is so terrifying is that it's so lethal. Researchers estimate that the strain circulating in West Africa is killing upward of 70 percent of those it infects. Even among those getting care, as many as 64 percent are dying.

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