For 15 years, journalist Jon Cohen has been following the course of the HIV/AIDS virus around the world as it continues to wreak havoc on global health. He has found that despite large successes in treatment efforts, prevention is still sorely lacking.
“People are realizing there is no way to treat our way out of this — we have to slow the epidemic,” Cohen said.
He presented his work investigating HIV/AIDS and spoke about the importance of investigative journalism in addressing global epidemics as part of the second annual Global Health Awareness Week held April 5-9.
The week was organized by USC, UCLA and the Global Health Review, and it recognized the World Health Organization’s 2010 global health campaign “1,000 Cities, 1,000 Lives.”
According to Cohen’s experience in investigating the spread of HIV, one of the key things to understand about slowing the virus is that you have to look at the drivers of the epidemic, which differ from place to place.
“When you are designing prevention programs, you have to look carefully at where the virus is spreading,” he said.
Unfortunately, barriers to prevention vary widely and can include lack of education, migration patterns, homophobia, violence and both poverty and wealth, among others. In addition, many barriers overlap and are difficult to disentangle, Cohen said.
“This is really a story about people, not a story about the virus,” he emphasized. “It’s about understanding people and their behavior without getting moralistic about it, because the virus has no morals.”
The lecture was part of the USC Institute for Global Health’s Visions for Change Lecture Series and was hosted in partnership with the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the Center for Health and Medical Communication.