New York Times editorial writer tackles AIDS

Lori Fradkin

Calling her coverage of the AIDS epidemic the “single most important topic” she has ever reported on, Pulitzer Prize winner and Medill School of Journalism alumna Tina Rosenberg said Monday that although the world has made progress in combating the AIDS crisis, the effort is far from complete.

Rosenberg, an editorial writer for The New York Times, spoke to about 70 students, faculty and community members as part of Medill’s Crain Lecture Series. An expert on foreign affairs, she praised several countries and individuals for their contributions to the fight against AIDS, but accused others of obstructing the process.

“My message today is a hopeful message about a very sad story,” she said.

Rosenberg related statistics about the high percentage of AIDS cases in foreign countries. She said in Botswana, for example, one-third of the population is infected with the disease. She predicted that in 10 years, AIDS will occupy the place in the news that terrorism controls today.

But while AIDS is raging out of control in some countries, Rosenberg said Brazil is one of the leaders in fighting the disease. She attributed much of the country’s success to activists, such as homosexual groups, and former Brazilian president Jose Sarney.

Brazil demonstrated it is possible to get around patent laws and create generic drugs, thus bringing down the high prices of AIDS treatments, she said.

“While a lot of other people were wringing their hands, Brazil actually put into place a program,” she said. “Brazil is able to copy just about all major AIDS drugs that are out there.”

Worldwide organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, a humanitarian medical assistance agency, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria also have made significant contributions in battling against the disease, Rosenberg said. She applauded U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Paul Farmer of Partners in Health for their commitment to bringing attention to AIDS-related issues.

“One of the things that world leadership has done is remove the stigma of AIDS,” Rosenberg said.

Despite increased awareness, Rosenberg said many people and countries, including South Africa, still stand in the way of progress.

“(President Thabo Mbeki’s) government has decided to bury its head in the sand,” she said.

The United States government also has hindered some advances by allowing multinational drug companies to influence its trade policy, she said. According to Rosenberg, a U.S. trade negotiator said in 1999 he was unaware that South Africa had an AIDS crisis.

Medill freshman Susan Park said she came to hear Rosenberg’s lecture because she was interested in AIDS’ effect on third world countries.

“I thought it was very informative, especially because she had people-to-people knowledge,” Park said. “It’s nice to know the countries are improving with it, and it’s just not a dead-end situation that everyone makes it out to be.”

Medill Prof. Donna Leff, who introduced the lecture, taught Rosenberg as a graduate student. She said she was “proud with a capital ‘P'” of her former student and recognized the value of the subject.

“It’s a very critical and important topic, and it needs to be understood and disseminated worldwide,” Leff said.