• U.S.

Journalism That Makes a Difference

4 minute read
James Kelly

Philip Elmer-Dewitt, TIME’s Sciences editor, began working on this week’s special report on global health more than nine months ago. He convened a panel of experts to suggest themes and the best people to profile. More than a dozen journalists, including several who are usually based in New York City, visited 15 countries around the world. Alice Park flew to China. Christine Gorman traveled to South Africa and Zambia.

And Phil allowed himself to go to Africa, the heart of the global health crisis. Phil has edited many stories about diseases in Africa, but he had never been to the continent. In September he flew to Rwanda to spend a few days with his longtime hero, Dr. Paul Farmer. There, he got a crash course in Third World medicine, interviewing beleaguered health officials, visiting families crowded into thatched huts and shadowing Farmer as he treated AIDS, TB and malaria patients with food and life-saving drugs. “This is how medicine is supposed to work,” says Elmer-DeWitt. “After three days, I was ready to quit my day job and apply to medical school.”

Meanwhile, James Nachtwey, the celebrated photographer of war and famine, set off on his own marathon quest, traveling to five countries in eight weeks. The result is the haunting portfolio of patients and caregivers that fills 14 pages of this issue. “It’s difficult to edit Jim’s photographs because they bring tears to your eyes,” says picture editor MaryAnne Golon. “They’re more than photographs–they give a voice to those who most need to be heard.”

Back in New York City, Jeffrey Kluger and Michael D. Lemonick fielded the material coming in from abroad, compiling the extraordinary narratives into some of the stories you see in this issue, while assistant photo editor Cristina Scalet directed the team of photographers who shot the 18 “heroes” profiled in these pages. Graphics director Jackson Dykman assembled a four-page gatefold on the burden of disease around the world. And associate art director Janet Michaud worked her magic to fit the editorial jig-saw puzzle into a compelling visual package.

When we closed the magazine on Saturday night, however, our work was only beginning. Following up on the themes set by the issue, TIME is convening an extraordinary three-day Global Health Summit in New York City this week. With major support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we have invited more than 400 people from all walks of life–policymakers; religious, civic and business leaders; thinkers and doers; scientists; entertainers; journalists; and public-health officials–to help devise practical solutions to the health crisis in the developing world. The conference is organized around 10 “big questions,” from “Why do 10 million children have to die?” to “How do we prepare for the next plague?”, and includes among its speakers Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, Rick Warren and Madeleine Albright.

This issue and the summit are centerpieces of a week-long multimedia effort to move public health closer to the top of the national agenda. ABC News and Charlie Rose are scheduled to devote segments of their shows to the conference, while PBS, starting on Nov. 1 at 9 p.m. E.T., will begin running a six-hour series titled Rx for Survival–A Global Health Challenge. Finally, Alicia Keys will hold a concert in New York City benefiting Keep a Child Alive on Nov. 3 with such guests as Usher, Paul Simon and the Agape Children’s Choir from Durban, South Africa. Tickets for the concert are still available at keepachildalive.org

Since becoming the editor of TIME in 2001, I’ve considered it a crucial part of TIME’s mandate to cast its commanding spotlight on problems that transcend borders, whether they be disease, poverty, genocide or global warming. These are not topics that make for easy conversation at the dinner table, but it is a conversation we must have with one another if we are to leave our children–and their children–a world worth living in.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com