Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Countdown for Africa Reporting Project

I'm due to leave on Sunday to begin my three month Africa reporting project. I'm looking forward to it, but also a little nervous -- I hope I can do justice to all the time and effort people have put into this!

Here's a summary of the project:


Nieman Global Health Fellowship 2008 Fieldwork Proposal
Andrew Quinn

GOAL: To illustrate the search for an AIDS vaccine by telling the stories of African volunteers who put their bodies on the line in clinical trials – a process which for participants involves both some of the greatest promises and sharpest risks of scientific globalization.


Developing an AIDS vaccine has long been a major objective for the global health community, spawning an industry of advocates, researchers, bureaucrats and program directors all pushing toward the goal of immunizing people against HIV.

But while the media often depicts the vaccine hunt as taking place chiefly in high-tech research labs, it is in reality an increasingly global project and relies heavily on volunteers in both in developed and developing countries to test potential vaccine candidates.

The research has thus far produced little but disappointment, including the failure of a promising candidate vaccine last year which has slammed the brakes on most active trials around the world. But the hunt goes on, both in laboratories and in follow-up among participants in trials already under way.

My reporting project aims to examine this process, focusing on clinical trial projects in Africa.

The project will center on volunteers, and particularly on how they were recruited for the vaccine drive and what motivated them to participate. It will also look at what impact the string of vaccine failures has had on morale – a potentially significant factor for researchers contemplating future trials.

The role the Gates Foundation, the U.S. government and Western pharmaceutical firms will also come in for scrutiny, as will Community Advisory Boards and local governments which have facilitated interaction between local communities and the global AIDS establishment.

I envision a package of health features for the Reuters newswire, which could provide an effective worldwide showcase for the story. I also propose writing a longer, in-depth piece to explore more fully the promises and pitfalls of globalization in the AIDS vaccine campaign.

Since the original proposal I've also added a segment looking at malaria vaccine research -- particularly the RTS,S vaccine candidate being promoted by the Path Malaria Organization. They are gearing up for what will be the largest clinical trial ever undertaken in Africa, and should be an interesting counterpoint to the gloom surrounding the HIV vaccine campaign.

I'll be blogging here and there during the trip, which is going to last about three months and take me to South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.