Pulitzer Prize winner visits Hill

Adriane Hardin

The United States is more concerned with marketing drugs that will help grandpa keep his erection and hair than they are with solving the global health problem.

At least that’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett said Tuesday night.

Garrett was the first guest lecturer sponsored by Western’s Cultural Enhancement Committee.

Even though Van Meter auditorium was far from full, several students came to listen to Garrett, the only journalist who has been awarded all three major journalism awards – the Peabody, the Polk and the Pulitzer.

Garrett’s talk focused on how Americans can solve the global health problem and stop bioterrorism.

She said in the post-Sept. 11 world, America should be more concerned than ever with funding global health reform projects.

“Public health is a national security issue,” Garrett said.

She calmly took a sip of water and flipped to a slide of a smallpox victim. A gasp rose from the audience when they saw the photograph of a man completely covered in tiny red dots.

There are all sorts of problems that are contributing to the downfall of public health – lack of interest from the government, the marketing of drugs that are not vaccines and a general decline of interest from American citizens, Garrett said.

She said Americans should be concerned because bioterrorism causes chaos in a society. She has traveled to Russia and researched Vector, a bioterrorism program that employed over 70,000 scientists.

“Public hysteria is filling up labs with everything from Laz-E-Boys to lawn chairs and envelopes saying, ‘Mr. Policeman, I think it’s anthrax,'” Garrett said.

She has also traveled to Africa and India to research the Ebola virus and the plague.

The audience watched with interest as Garrett showed slides of Africans and Indians who had lost their entire families to those diseases, which have been virtually non-existent in America.

“The urbanization of remote areas, these mega-cities of the future can’t handle the population,” she said.

Whole cultures are vanishing as a result. She said Americans should be concerned with correcting these problems first. And while viruses like the plague and Ebola play a part in the grand scheme of things, HIV is making its way to the top of the ranks at an alarming pace.

HIV has been designated as a national security issue, and Garrett says that it is a brand new epidemic.

“Despite all the knowledge, and all the condoms, 40,000 people a year (in the United States) seem to be getting HIV,” Garrett said.

As the slide show ended and the lights came back on, a call for questions came. No hands rose.

“Too shy, or too depressed?” Garrett asked.

While the audience was quiet during the question session, many seemed to enjoy the lecture.

David Lee, chairman of the Cultural Enhancement Committee, was pleased with Garrett’s presentation.

“I thought she gave a very strong presentation with sharp detail,” he said. “She is very serious about public health issues.”

Madisonville senior Lindsay Gilmore stuck around after the lecture to buy a signed copy of Garrett’s book.

“I really liked what she said about going to the root of the problem,” she said.

Reach Adriane Hardin at [email protected]