Nitze Fellow Explores Medical Innovation

Sophie Delaunay, the U.S. Director of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF),  returned to St. Mary’s Hall on the evening of Feb. 8 to deliver her second lecture as the Nitze Senior Fellow for 2011-2012.

The lecture, titled “Medical Innovations in Humanitarian Situations,” detailed MSF’s role as a pioneering organization, not just in the field of medical humanitarianism, but also in pharmaceutical development. MSF sends teams of volunteer medical staff  into more than 60 countries, which are home to those who “are threatened by armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from healthcare, and natural disasters,” according to the lecture’s program.

Michael Taber, assistant professor of Philosophy and Director of the Nitze Scholars Program, introduced the lecture by drawing a comparison between the innovation of St. Mary’s as a “unique public honors college,” which provides a high quality education at a public school price, and MSF’s similar goal of administering first-world healthcare to third-world countries.

The settings in which MSF functions are often dangerous and removed from the medical conveniences of developed nations. “MSF’s professional specialization is innovation,” Delaunay said, “because the emergencies in which we [are] operating [are] non-specialized.”

Delaunay provided an anecdote to explain how MSF donors perceive the organization as in need of medicine donations, as opposed to monetary ones. “People think charity medicine is outdated and secondhand, and that we’re always on the verge of being abandoned,” she said. “One donor wanted to give us medicine for cancer,  and another woman who was scheduled for liposuction offered us her fat to use in surgeries.”

These propositions were declined because MSF only accepts monetary donations, Delaunay explained, and said that in reality, MSF participates in “medical innovation in the developed world as well as the third world,” eliminating the need for donations of actual medicine.

Delaunay detailed how many MSF branches, based in different areas of expertise, were developed to help the organization run more efficiently.

When MSF organizers realized that certain teams were struggling to operate safely in their given conditions, a medical department was created to oversee the development of medical tool kits made specifically for different diseases. “You wouldn’t think MSF would need a medical department, because they were all doctors, but it was necessary to have a specialized team to make operations go smoothly.”

The MSF satellite organization, Logistique, was created “to be in charge of supplying MSF outposts with medicine and tools,” said Delaunay. She also spoke about Epicentre, another independently-operated branch,  which “changed the rules of how drugs were prescribed and produced” while becoming MSF’s own epidemiological center to study the treatment of diseases.

Delaunay’s first assignment with MSF was in Thailand, a relatively stable country sheltering an influx of refugees from neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia. Amongst these refugees, malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, was the main cause of death. The refugees were quickly becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat malaria, a problem that made death almost certain for malaria patients.

“One MSF doctor was so frustrated by the proliferation of the disease,” said Delaunay, “that he decided to study malaria with the help of universities in Thailand and England.” This research eventually led to the discovery of an effective artemisinin-based drug used in Chinese medicine.

Chinese researchers studied the drug, but “Chinese drugs were not studied to international science standards,” said Delaunay. In addition, pharmaceutical companies could not expect a monopoly or profit from producing such a drug, which was to treat a disease that  was all but obsolete in the developed world. Delaunay also admitted that some officials were reluctant to recognize that something as uncommon as Chinese medicine had found the solution for malaria.

The World Health Organization and other academic institutions had no plans to study artemisinin, so MSF took it upon itself to do so. “A few ethical dilemmas were created by this decision,” said Delaunay. “Studies conducted among Burmese refugees were done under informal consent, meaning that the test subject’s choice of participation was made independently because the organization conducting the study is also providing them with medical assistance, and he would feel obligated to participate.”

“There were also debates among MSF staff members,” Delaunay said, “about the practicality of continuing to use the old drugs on malaria patients when it was clearly not working.”

In the end, Epicentre conducted clinical trials in 18 countries with Western scientific standards and peer-review journals, and artemisinin drugs were produced by MSF’s Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), an organization that “makes deals with pharmaceutical companies to research drugs that have not been used in a while,” said Delaunay.

Despite MSF’s accomplishments within medicine, Delaunay said, “Don’t think there isn’t a need for further innovation. The malaria conflict was a mix between effective treatment and political advocacy. If we lack either, our policies are asked to change. When we have the right treatment, political will happens within the interests of major states.”

Delaunay concluded the lecture by saying, “Humanitarian medicine is by no means second-class. Our doctors have worked consecutive hospital jobs prior to joining MSF. Just because we have poor patients does not mean they are given poor doctors. Humanitarian players are ready to change the status quo.”

Sophomore Colleen Hughes, who was required to read MSF’s book on medical innovations for a class in the Nitze Scholars Program, said, “I was able to get a better understanding of the subject I’ve been reading about for the past few weeks.”

Clara Richards, a sophomore aspiring to work in the field of medicine, found the lecture to be a supplement to her current schoolwork. “I did a project on malaria recently,” said Richards, “and it was very interesting to listen to someone who’s so knowledgeable about the disease and it’s treatments.”

Delaunay will give her third and final lecture as the Nitze Senior Fellow, entitled “Adapting to Recent Developments in Global Health,” on April 16 at 8 p.m. in St. Mary’s Hall.

Journalism and Our Attention Spans

In the year’s final Paul H. Nitze lecture, Nitze fellow and New Yorker senior editor Nicholas Thompson spoke on how, though the internet may have seemingly killed attention spans and long-form journalism, the new age of iPads and tablet computers might be reviving the endangered art.

The lecture, titled The Future of Journalism, focused on the way technology has fundamentally impacted how news articles are written and consumed. According to Thompson, pre-internet newspapers and magazines tended to have more of what he termed “narrative journalism,” which consists of highly-researched and developed articles that were typically between 20,000 to 30,000 words. “These stories were thought provoking” said Thompson, “they helped start national discussions.”

Thompson, to illustrate his point, referenced two exemplars of the form:  the 1946 New Yorker article “Hiroshima,” which encompassed an entire issue of the magazine and follows the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the 1966 Esquire article “Oh My God – We Hit a Little Girl,” which focused on civilian casualties in the Vietnam War.  These articles were written for the purpose of creating a dialogue as well as getting news across to the public, and were “not just dry encapsulations of events … [they] almost had a cinematic quality,” said Thompson.

According to Thompson the advent of the internet changed all of that. He noted that, at first, there was a lot of optimism about the internet’s ability to provide a multimedia experience and easier access to articles. “People who like narrative essays thought that the Internet would be great,” Thompson said, “anyone could access it anywhere.”

However, the internet posed major challenges to narrative journalism. Many were simply economic: people generally refuse to pay for anything online, according to Thompson, and internet advertisement is not lucrative. Web advertising does not bring in enough money to sustain the sort of effort and time that goes in to writing, copy editing, and fact-checking long-form articles.

Money was not the only problem that narrative articles faced on the internet. The average U.S. American, according to Thompson, only has the attention span for around 800 words. He added that they “won’t remember those 800 words anyways.” Thompson said that this was due to the number of distractions present on the internet, including email, Facebook, and instant messaging.

Thompson said internet news today must be “short, snappy, and snarky,” and well below 2000 words, to be relevant.

Despite all of this, Thompson indicated that he was hopeful about the future and the fact that not everyone is following the trend towards short-form journalism. He noted, for example, that the New Yorker and, after having gone through a period of more vapid journalism, Rolling Stone, continued to publish quality long-form narrative articles even in the internet age. Thompson said, “the solution [for newspaper and magazines] is ‘let’s be less like the web … let’s just talk about things that [are] interesting.’”

More intriguing, however, are the examples of long-form narrative journalism that synthesize what is good about the web with what is good about the internet. Thompson pointed out an article/experiment he contributed to during his time at Wired magazine, in which contributor Evan Ratliff concealed his whereabouts from readers trying to fake his own death. Thompson said that Wired, using a set of cryptic clues and a $5000 reward, encouraged readers to create Facebook and Twitter groups directed at deciphering the clues and finding the “vanished” Ratliff.

Thompson also said he was hopeful about the potential of the iPad as a “chance to reboot” the connection between long-form narrative journalism and modern technology. He added that the iPad and the nature of its application system is far more friendly to a subscriber model and provides an overall better reading experience that personal computers or laptops.

Thompson also mentioned the “Atavist” application, created by himself and Ratliff, which focuses exclusively on long-form narrative articles and uses a “layering system” to integrate fact-checking details and multimedia without detracting from the content.

Thompson noted that those interested in long-form reads could find more via the #longform and #longreads Twitter hashtags, concluding, “It turns out [narrative journalism] still exists and that there are still opportunities for it.”

Students seemed generally inspired by Thompson’s discussion. Sophomore Alex Roca said, “I’m going to try and find more of those [long-form] articles personally.” Sophomore Emily Wavering said, “I’m really impressed with the ways we’re bouncing back from the almost set-back of the internet.” She added, “I think we will be able to go back to long-form.”

 

Nitze Scholar Discusses Social Media, Internet Influence in Politics

The internet has radically changed modern life in ways unimagined even a couple of years ago.  Over the last few months, the world has witness these radical changes in the form of revolution and social upheaval.  As a response to the recent uprisings in the Middle East, many have began to explore the role of social medial in the political sphere and how these cultures have use it for the advancement of their political agendas.

One person who has been exploring this topic closely is this year’s Nitze Senior Fellow, Nicholas Thompson.  Michael Taber, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, introduced Thompson, who is also the grandson of the late diplomat and Board of Trustee member Paul H. Nitze, to a crowd of approximately 60 students, staff, and community members.

While the topic and discussion remained serious, Thompson did spend some time joking around. The line “this is the largest group of people besides family reunions that can pronounce my grandfather’s name” received laughter from the audience.

As a senior editor at The New Yorker and a contributing editor at Bloomberg Television, Thompson has been studying the current crisis in the Middle East in great detail. He explained to the audience that an increase in technology would most likely lead to an increase of democracy and freedom.

By using examples like the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts, Thompson described how the citizens of these countries used social media like Facebook and Twitter to organize themselves effectively.

The internet is becoming “the great liberalizer,” he said.  It allows people to find others who believe in the same causes. When people discover others who believe the same thing they do, it invokes a higher level of passion.  “You see support of your ideas by other people which then intensifies your own passions” said Thompson. “Once you see you are not alone, it is easier to become embolden by the additional support.”

The internet also has no “gate keeper;” therefore, governments no longer have control over information within any country.  Thompson explains that “By creating anonymous blogs, pages, and websites, the state no longer has a monopoly on information.”

Once information flows freely to the people, the government has a harder time upholding the veneer of the state.

However, Thompson then explored the reason and ways internet may actually harm the causes of revolutionaries.  “It is very easy to create the illusion of activism on the internet” said Thompson, “revolutions are started by those who have strong connections with others that they will be willing to die for.”

Even though a revolutionary group may have millions of followers, there is little tying these people together.  The internet causes people to work less and create weak connections amongst each other: two traits that usually lead to fail revolts.

Thompson also said conversations are  less developed and intelligent.  Since a person can hide behind their computer and anonymous name, they can say anything that pleases them.  This leads to arguments that spiral out of control as the passions of the participants overtake their reason.

The internet is also seen as a less serious forum for interaction.  “People who are on the internet for 10 hours are not looked highly upon,” said Thompson, “especially when they are on LOLcats.”

At the end of the talk, there was no answer about whether the internet is good or bad. Thompson concluded that he did not know. “The internet gives more power to the youth since they understand the new social tools of the day,” said Thompson.

“However, the internet makes us more tribal.” Since people read the articles and blogs that agree with them, they are more likely to only receive half the story or one side of the argument.

The talk was well received by those present.  It was “fascinating, deeply knowledgeable,” according to Julia Bates, who continued by saying that it will make her think about the new role of social media. Sophomore Marty McGowan seconded that comment by saying it was a “very informative talk, relative to the political movement of the day.”

There was also praise for Thompson and his speaking style.  “He was extraordinary well-spoken and delightful to listen to,” said first-year Claire Kortyna.

 

John Prendergast: Students Can Help Darfur

John Prendergast discussed the current conflict in Darfur and what individuals can do to help out. (Photo by Kevin Baier)
John Prendergast discussed the current conflict in Darfur and what individuals can do to help out. (Photo by Kevin Baier)

John Prendergast, Former Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and co-founder of the Enough Project, gave his second of three public lectures as the Senior Nitze Fellow on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Michael Taber, director of the Nitze Scholars Program, introduced Prendergast and said, “he turns a light on difficult problems in difficult parts of the world and turns that light on us to shine a light on what we can do.”

Prendergast focused on the causes of violence in Sudan and the action that individuals can take to end that violence. He began with the heartbreaking story of Ameena, the mother of four from a small village in Northern Darfur.

Ameena was awoken early one morning by the sound of an explosion. Then she heard the sound of horses “this could mean only one thing, the Janjaweed were coming,” said Prendergast. As she fled the village, two militiamen chased her down.
The first grabbed her five-year-old son, Adam, and threw him into a burning house. “I don’t know what any of us would do,” said Prendergast. Ameena, Adam still screaming in the fire, chose to save her three other children. The second militiaman grabbed her seven year old and shot him three times before Ameena could escape with her two remaining children.

After recounting her horrifying story to Prendergast, Ameena said, “now that you know my story, you must do something.”
According to Prendergast, Ameena is one of three million displaced, her village is one of 1,500 villages burned and her children are two of the hundreds of thousands killed in the genocide perpetrated by the government backed Janjaweed. “The Janjaweed is Sudan’s KKK,” he said.

Although the Janjaweed, an extremist group, is responsible, Prendergast points to a small group of political leaders as those responsible for arming and encouraging the Janjaweed. He said, “it is not a divide and conquer strategy it is a divide and destroy strategy.”

To explain U.S. inaction, Prendergast points to the War in Iraq, counterterrorism efforts and energy. “The US is distracted in Iraq,” he said and, “the Sudanese government is providing information to the CIA” on the whereabouts of known terrorists. Also, China has invested heavily in the Sudanese oil industry and in exchange, Prendergast said, “China protects Sudan in the UN Security council, like [the U.S.] does with Israel.”

Prendergast ended the lecture by talking about the hope he has that the genocide will end and how students can get involved. “We are, for the first time, seeing a mass movement to end genocide,” he said, “we must create political pressure and cover for politicians to do the right thing.”

He laid out five ways students can help. First, join an anti-genocide movement. Second, contact a Senator or Congressman. Third, call the White House. Fourth, write or call local media. Finally, get involved with the “Darfur Dream Team” sister-to-sister school program (www.darfurdreamteam.org).

“We have a lot of potential to impact [the genocide in Darfur], being so close to Washington,” said Shane Hall, Sustainability Fellow, “we just need to look past our iPhones or use them in the right way.”

“John [Prendergast] gave pretty solid guidelines that we can follow through with and gave a global context for the small role that we can play,” said Andrew Reighart, a first-year and Nitze Scholar. Andrew and other first-year Nitze scholars read “Not on Our Watch” in preparation for the lecture. “Not on Our Watch” is a book co-authored by Prendergast and actor/activist Don Cheadle about the genocide in Darfur.

More information on John Prendergast and his work is available at www.enoughproject.org.

Human Rights Activist Named Nitze Senior Fellow

Among rock stars turned politicos, Prendergast is a politico who seems more like a rock star,” wrote the Sudan Tribune, regarding his work with Don Cheadle, Ryan Gosling and Angelina Jolie.
Among rock stars turned politicos, Prendergast is a politico who seems more like a rock star,” wrote the Sudan Tribune, regarding his work with Don Cheadle, Ryan Gosling and Angelina Jolie.

John Prendergast, high profile human rights activist and author, has been named the 2009-2010 Paul H. Nitze Senior Fellow and is expected to visit campus three times over the year.

The Nitze Senior Fellow is appointed by the Provost and visits the College three times a year to give public lectures and interact with students and faculty. “We work them hard,” said Director of the Nitze Scholars Program, Michael Taber. “For example, over his three visits, last year’s Fellow, T.R. Reid, met with classes in Computer Science, Economics, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology ad Sociology, along with CORE 101 and Nitze Seminars.”

Dr. Taber also schedules relaxed activities as well, including a bike ride with students for Mr. Reid and a discussion in kayaks for the 2007-08 Fellow Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Mr. Prendergast’s work has focused on Africa, especially on Darfur and the Congo.  He is co-founder of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity. During the Clinton Administration, Mr. Prendergast was involved in several peace processes in Africa while he was Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and Special advisor at the State Department.

He has also worked for members of Congress, the United Nations, humanitarian aid agencies, human rights organizations and think tanks. His 2007 book Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond, co-authored with actor Don Cheadle, was a New York Times bestseller.

ohn continues to make noise about something that needs constant noise,” said Don Cheadle about their work in Darfur.
ohn continues to make noise about something that needs constant noise,” said Don Cheadle about their work in Darfur.

He is currently working on two books for publication by Random House, one focusing on his 25 years in the Big Brother program and the other about human rights and peace activism. Because both books are due within the same week, his visits have not been scheduled. According to Taber, they should be set within the coming weeks.

“I know that Prendergast’s schedule will be more challenging than most,” Taber said. “But I hope we can find dates when he can spend the better part of a day or two with in our beautiful and welcoming community.”