Telling Different Stories About Africa Involves Both Journalists and Readers | 

The subject of how to report on Africa has come into focus the past few months with articles from academic Laura Seay in Foreign Policy and a response by Tristan McConnell in the GlobalPost. Both make some points worth considering, but it is the nuanced entry from Jina Moore in the Boston Review earlier this month that provides a critical perspective from a journalists who has dealt with the desires of readers and editors while being mindful of the complexity of telling stories from Africa.

One example of this is the need to reference the genocide when writing about Rwanda.

Nearly every story I published from Rwanda in my three years reporting there included a reference to the 1994 genocide. Dredging up suffering can win a busy audience’s attention, but it’s a limited kind of attention. It’s the attention of the kind-hearted stranger from a distance, the reader who stops eating his breakfast or reading her stock quotes to remember just how bad it is in other places.

By narrowing the lens of storytelling into one that largely focuses on compassion, a single and problematic narrative emerges. Continue reading

News flash: Global health continues to stagnate under Obama | 

The Kaiser Family Foundation yesterday held a briefing on the Obama Administration’s ‘new’ approach to global health featuring, as keynote speaker, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius.

Nothing much of substance seems to have happened, which some will say is in keeping with the Obama Administration’s strategy for global health. Sibelius claimed that the U.S. has always been and is today a leader in the fight against diseases of poverty, quoting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“At a time when people are raising questions about America’s role in the world, our leadership in global health reminds them who we are and what we do.”

True enough. America has been a leader in many aspects of global health, such as the fight against AIDS and malaria. But none of that lead was established by the Obama Administration. It was mostly President George W. Bush’s leadership (especially on AIDS in Africa) — and to a great extent a small, private operation based in Seattle run by a software tycoon — which gave us the lead.

The Obama Administration, as documented in this excellent series of articles (also funded by Kaiser) in GlobalPost called Healing the World, hasn’t really accomplished much of anything … besides a lot of talk, new reports and announced ‘new’ shifts in strategy.

You can see for yourself, if you want to watch Kaiser’s video of the two-hour Beltway confab:

Two news organizations tried to cover the Kaiser event but I don’t know what they said since both, Congressional Quarterly and Politico Pro, are hidden behind a subscriber paywall. Kaiser quoted from one of the reports, by CQ’s Rebecca Adams:

“The strategy identifies 10 major objectives but does not include metrics for gauging success,” the news service writes, adding Sebelius “said the plan ‘does not represent a radical new direction but seeks to provide a focus to ongoing efforts.”

That doesn’t really sound new, or maybe even like much of a strategy. Most folks seem to have stopped paying much attention to the Obama Administration’s global health strategy — because it seems like mostly just rhetoric with no new funding and little in the way of substantive action.


To publish and perish? Scientists create scary new flu bug | 

Flickr, Y

The U.S. government is opposing full publication by scientists of their methods used to create a mutant form of bird influenza based on the fear it could be used by terrorists to launch a deadly pandemic.

As reasonable as this may sound, many see the government’s position as unworkable and inappropriate.

As Nature magazine and GlobalPost report, some say the researchers should not be allowed to publish their findings because such knowledge would be dangerous in the wrong hands.

On Friday, a compromise position was floated — a three-month hold on publishing while the scientific community figures out how to balance the fundamental need for free and open exchange of ideas with the desire to minimize the potential risk of misuse of scientific information to do harm.

The mutant strain of flu variant H5N1 was created as part of ongoing research to prepare for a major pandemic. As Nature reports:

The mutant strains were not born out of a reckless desire to push the boundaries of high-risk science, but to gain a better understanding of the potential for avian H5N1 to mutate into a form that can spread easily in humans through coughing or sneezing.

That seems prudent enough, but some outside the scientific community are raising the alarm over plans to publish the findings in scientific journals. As The Independent reported:

A deadly strain of bird flu with the potential to infect and kill millions of people has been created in a laboratory by European scientists – who now want to publish full details of how they did it.

The discovery has prompted fears within the US Government that the knowledge will fall into the hands of terrorists wanting to use it as a bio-weapon of mass destruction.

There is reason for caution and precautions have already being taken, beginning with the standard laboratory containment measures. But this is also perhaps evidence why we need to better educate people — apparently including many folks in positions of great power — on statistics and relative risk. Continue reading

“On the ground” reality vs rhetoric regarding Obama’s Global Health Initiative | 

I wonder if anyone, other than those who want money from it, is paying that much attention to the Obama Administration’s once-ballyhooed grand vision known as the Global Health Initiative.

So far as I can tell the vision seems to be still a bit blurry and shrinking, from the original pledge of $63 billion over six years to maybe more like $55 billion, give or take a billion. Continue reading

GlobalPost looks at Obama Admin’s “stumbling” Global Health Initiative | 

“A slow, stumbling start.”

That’s how John Donnelly, writing in GlobalPost, characterizes the Obama Administration’s Global Health Initiative. The online international news organization has published a short series called  “Healing the World” (yeah, kind of corny) that critically examines the initiative.

The U.S. government is, in fact, doing a lot when it comes to global health needs on a number of fronts — most of which were launched under President George Bush.

The Bush Administration’s global health “strategery” led to PEPFAR, a massive effort aimed at helping those with HIV/AIDS in Africa, the President’s Malaria Initiative and we remain the largest donor to multilateral initiatives like the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria.

These are amazingly grand and good things we are doing. But part of the problem with the U.S. approach to global health has been a lack of coordination among these initiatives and the various agencies carrying them out. Continue reading