One hundred thousand newborns die every year of a condition called Rh Disease, a blood condition that can be treated simply and inexpensively. The Global Reporting Centre has partnered with the Toronto Star to document efforts by doctors from Central Asia, Africa and Canada to try to wipe out this disease, which was virtually eradicated in the developed world a half century ago.
Early in his career, Dr. Alvin Zipursky watched too many babies dying from an anomaly in their blood type. Back in the 1960s, he helped develop an inject that prevented the disease from causing brain damage or death in newborns. All these years later, in his “retirement,” the pediatric hematologist has returned to working on this disease, which many thought had become a relic of medical history.
Award-winning reporter and GRC collaborator Jennifer Yang plans to travel to Africa and Asia to examine why this problem persists in lower-income countries. And she wants to find out what it takes to truly “cure” a disease worldwide.
She will examine the burden and why Rh disease persists in lower-income countries. “I think a lot of hope and attention is focused on overcoming the scientific challenges of beating a disease, but often, the biggest hurdles are social, political or economic,” said Yang. Yang has covered global health for years, reporting from Bhutan, Iceland, Japan, Geneva, Malawi and Sierra Leone. She was the first Canadian journalist to cover the 2014 Ebola outbreak from West Africa. She says this project is important because it ties into so many issues of inequality around the world. “A story about modern-day Rh disease – which really only exists in lower-income countries – will not only raise awareness of the disease itself, but serve as a portal for readers to learn about important issues that affect the developing world: poverty, inequity, and a lack of health care infrastructure,” she said, “These are the symptoms that need to be treated – and talked about – if problems like Rh disease are to be cured in the world’s most vulnerable communities,” said Yang.
Through a multimedia documentary, the GRC hopes to achieve four major goals: explain Rh disease to the public, map the disease worldwide, illustrate the disease’s impact, and spotlight the lack of health resources for women and babies in developing countries.
“This is exactly why we created the Global Reporting Centre – to find neglected stories around the world and find creative ways of reporting on complex issues,” said GRC Executive Director Peter Klein. “We’re excited to be working with Jennifer, and to be collaborating with the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada.”
This project is funded primarily through a grant to Yang from the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada, with additional support from the GRC.