MY MOST SATISFYING WORK in TV news in Seattle, Russia, and Uzbekistan has focused on health and medical issues. However, at best my reports only illuminated, rather than resolved, serious medical issues and stories in just one broadcast to a limited viewing audience—whether that audience was 50,000 in Seattle or 70 million viewers in Russia. That was frustrating. I wanted to do more.
I recently returned to Seattle after several years in Montana, amazed at the growth of global health in this region during my absence. I wanted to know more about global health, so in my spare time I’ve studied microbiology; anatomy/physiology; emerging infectious diseases; chemistry; statistics; and nutrition, along with seminars and lectures for the master’s certificate in global health at the University of Washington. My goal is to build on my communications background in helping illuminate global health issues and advocating for global health solutions. Infectious diseases and vaccines especially grab my attention.
Fearing a Tuberculosis Diagnosis
Getting sick sparked my interest in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB. It’s growing at an alarming rate worldwide, in Central Asia, and notably in Uzbekistan where I lived and worked as a senior correspondent reporting in Russian for Soviet TV.
I’m very healthy, making it all the more strange that I became seriously ill in 2008 while traveling with an official delegation in Uzbekistan. Suspicious, my doctor tested me for TB: thankfully, negative. (It turned out I had severe food poisoning, lowering my immune system and creating lingering bronchitis, laryngitis and pneumonia.) My own TB scare opened my eyes to the ease in spreading infectious diseases, and the lack of adequate detection and treatment in so much of the world.
This suspicion that I had tuberculosis, and the process of being tested for it sparked my interest in that disease. It also sparked me, intellectually, to write a paper on tuberculosis and MDR-TB for my global health class. It’s called “Seasick: The Explosion of Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan,” and focuses on that country’s challenge with MDR-TB in a post-Soviet healthcare setting. Based on my initial research and report, I’ve given several presentations on this deadly disease.
Chernobyl Sparks My Global Health Passion
(NOTE: I’m a board director of the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Association; through their auspices I hope to do far more on a governmental level in addressing the health concerns and needs not only of Uzbekistan, but of all five former Soviet Central Asia republics.
Beyond tuberculosis, gynecological cancers and an emergency response infrastructure are also pressing health concerns in this region, as is reliable post-Soviet primary health care access and delivery of prescription drugs.)
While working in the former Soviet Union in 1990-91, through the help of top government officials I visited Chernobyl – only the fourth Western TV reporter to do so at that time. The ghost town of Pripyat; the workers who remained, exposed to radiation and knowing their death sentences; those empty houses with shutters banging, tricycles tipped; the lucky children taken to hospitals in Kiev for bare-bones thyroid-cancer treatment, a handful brought to Seattle…
These images are DNAed into me…