Master Science Writer Garrett Presides at North Gate

by Julia Sommer

Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and author of "The Coming Plague," is the Journalism School's Goldman Foundation Teaching Fellow this semester.

"This is the most mind-expanding class I've taken at Berkeley," says one student in Garrett's science writing class. "She pushes us to the limit," says another. "Laurie's own experiences inform our discussions," says a third. "That she has been covering some of the most important science stories of the last two decades makes the class fascinating."

"The Coming Plague," detailing the alarming increase in infectious diseases worldwide, has sold over half a million copies, including translations in Portuguese, German, Japanese, Estonian and Lithuanian. Garrett also co-produced a related documentary, which aired in April on the Turner Broadcasting System and on networks in 26 countries.

Her interest in science and medicine-especially the little-noticed resurgence of infectious diseases-was heightened when she came to Berkeley in 1976 as a graduate student in immunology. (She later graduated with honors in biochemistry from UC Santa Cruz.)

Garrett's adviser, Professor Emeritus of Immunology Leon Wofsy, suggested she get her second passion-journalism-"out of her system" by doing it. So she took a leave to launch what would become a stellar career as a science writer-first as a freelancer, then as science correspondent for National Public Radio and, since 1988, as a Newsday medical writer. Last year she won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Ebola virus in Zaire.

Now on leave from Newsday, Garrett is teaching science writing at the Journalism School and starting work on a book about the global collapse of public health care.

Her talk Nov. 12 will present gruesome findings from a trip she made to the former USSR and Eastern Europe earlier this year. She investigated the effects of pollution and Chernobyl, as well as the results of "privatization": an influx of cheap, addictive drugs, poverty and malnutrition, gangsterism and prostitution.

What she found was ill health on an unprecedented scale, including declining life expectancy, increasing infant mortality, re-emergence of "old" diseases like typhoid and diphtheria, and new epidemics of HIV, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, and drug-resistant bacterial infections. Among the horrifying scenes: teenagers injecting addicting poppy straw derivative with huge, painful syringes and poverty-stricken citizens of Ulan Ude living in holes in the ground.

Garrett sees the public health situation worldwide as "pretty grim." Even though the White House has recognized emerging diseases as a threat to national security, no money is being budgeted to combat the problem, she says.

"There has been no serious Congressional examination of the problem, even though the State Department, CIA, Commerce Department and USDA are all aware of it," she says.

The World Health Organization has been restructured to respond more rapidly to emerging diseases, but without adequate funding, Garrett says. Just as trade has become global, so has disease.

Garrett will speak to the campus community about her work on three occasions.

  • Nov. 5, 12:30 p.m. Journalism library
    An informal talk on being a reporter.

  • Nov. 12, 6 p.m. 105 North Gate Hall
    A discussion of her most recent work, a 28-part Newsday series on the environmental crisis in Eastern Europe and the collapse of public health in the former USSR. A 5 p.m. reception precedes the slide lecture.

  • Nov. 20, 4 p.m. 22 Warren Hall
    School of Public Health grand rounds on "Emerging Diseases in the Former Soviet Union: The New Crisis."


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