ChinaBeat - AIDS and the GBJ Program

Dec 12008

Was it really a generation ago that we first heard reports of the plague?

The lesions. The infections. The deaths.

AIDS hit the Western world with a wallop. And that included journalists, who often reported experiencing a certain “AIDS fatigue,’’ as a seemingly implacable foe daily claimed terrible victories.

AIDS is no longer the threat it once was in America. But it has hardly been vanquished, particularly in less affluent corners of the world.

And a new generation of journalists, far from fatigued, are picking up the story with energy and zeal.

Among them are several students in the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University.

“Health is business -- it is economics,’’ says Jonathan Gandari. “At the heart of it all is the economics of health and medication. Money connects all the transactions.’’

Gandari is uniquely suited to understand the relevance of money to health, and public health to the economy.

“I come from Zimbabwe, where the HIV/AIDS rate is high,’’ he says. And the public health issues don’t end there.

“TB is on a rebound. Marlaria and cholera continue plaguing many people. “Under these circumstances, accurate, educational and community-targeted health reporting is essential.’’

The GBJ Program, which was started in 2007 by the International Center for Journalists, is uniquely suited to train him for that mission.

For one thing, the dean of Tsinghua’s School of Journalism and Communication, Li Xiguang, is at the forefront of AIDS journalism in China.

Secondly, the GBJ program emphasizes both economics and journalism. So Gandari is able to better understand how money affects medicine, which in turn affects people.

“From the manufacturer of drugs, the buyer, the distributor, the doctor and patient -- it’s all economics,’’ he says.

Gandari was recognized recently at the Third Annual Conference on Health Communication at Tsinghua.

The award was for his coverage of a recent AIDS conference at Tsinghua, which honored Chinese citizens active in the fight against AIDS. Honorees at that previous conference included Dean Li and NBA great Yao Ming, who accepted his prize via a taped message that thrilled the crowd.

At that conference, longtime UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot, said in a speech that journalists are better equipped than physicians to stop the spread of AIDS in the developing world.

Two other GBJ students also received recognition with Gandari: Marianne Daka, who also hails from Africa, and Jinbom “Parker’’ Park, of South Korea.

“I think health reporting is related to economics,’’ said Park. Public health has “critical impacts on the economy,’’ he adds, pointing to China’s recent tainted milk scandal as an example.

As for the future, Gandari says he’d like to use what he’s learning at the GBJ program to continue focusing on the intersection of health and economics professionally.

“After all, the stories are about human experiences, conditions, and the sharing of the available health resources,’’ he says.

Besides reporting, he adds, he hopes to make sure top-notch coverage in Africa continues -- by helping to train the next generation of journalists there.