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Global Health in Focus

Photos, tonight’s panel: human stories behind statistics


A withered Indian man infected with tuberculosis sits cross-legged on a hospital bed, his sunken eyes averted, as a doctor listens to his heart. A new mother breast-feeds her baby boy in Malawi only months before both die of AIDS. And two young girls in Sierra Leone bathe along a polluted stream flanked by a kaleidoscope of plastic bags, bottles, and assorted trash.

These are just some of the arresting images in Global Health in Focus, a Photographic Resource Center exhibition featuring the work of Kristen Ashburn, Dominic Chavez, and David Rochkind. Each photographer addresses one vexing global health challenge: tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or access to clean water. An accompanying panel discussion, called Why Global Health Matters, will be held tonight at the George Sherman Union Conference Auditorium at 6 p.m., with a reception to follow at the PRC at 7:30 p.m.

“Global health matters because in our codependent economies, with shared resources and a shared biology, our lives have never been more intimately intertwined,” says panel moderator Stefanie Friedhoff, a special projects manager at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

The photographers’ work captures the individual faces behind public health stories usually dominated by statistics. “The struggle, the pain, the hardship faced by these mothers, fathers, and children all become real, immediate, and visceral through portraits and images that provide us with direct access to the moment, to the person,” says PRC program and exhibition manager Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis.

The panel discussion and exhibition are part of the PRC’s Global Health Project, which aims to educate the New England community through art. “I drew on photographers whom I was familiar with,” says exhibition curator and PRC executive director Glenn Ruga, “and who had been focusing on global health issues.”

Ashburn has been documenting the AIDS toll in southern Africa since 2001. In her artist statement, she writes that the disease has killed approximately 30 million people in Africa in the last 25 years. More than 12 million children there have lost a parent to AIDS, and only a quarter of those infected with HIV have received medical care. “These images exist,” she writes, “as a memorial to all those lost to the AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa, and to the millions of children left behind.”

Rochkind’s photographs chronicle how tuberculosis has affected people living in South Africa, India, and Moldova. In the artist statement that accompanies his work, he notes that according to the World Health Organization, nearly two million people die from TB every year. “This project,” he writes, “attempts to move beyond a superficial view of the disease, and beyond a single geographic region, to convey that TB affects communities across the globe in a myriad of ways.”

And Chavez’s work clearly shows how the lack of access to clean water affects the health of people in Haiti and across Africa. “As a photographer,” he writes, “I feel a responsibility to create my work with respect, concern, and the understanding that pictures are the middle voice in creating dialogue.”

Tonight’s panel discussion Why Global Health Matters is at 6 p.m. at the George Sherman Union Conference Auditorium, 775 Commonwealth Ave. Panelists include photographers David Rochkind and Dominic Chavez, Jennifer Beard, a School of Public Health assistant professor of international health, and Jonathan D. Quick, president and CEO of Management Sciences for Health. Stefanie Friedhoff, special projects manager for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, will moderate. The panel discussion is free for members of the BU community, $5 for PRC members, and $10 for the general public. All panel attendees receive an exhibition catalog. A free reception follows the event, at 7:30 p.m. at the Photographic Resource Center, 832 Commonwealth Ave.

The PRC exhibition Global Health in Focus, with photographs by Kristen Ashburn, Dominic Chavez, and David Rochkind, runs through March 24. The panel discussion, exhibition, and exhibition catalog are sponsored by BU’s Center for Global Health and Development, the College of Communication, the School of Public Health, Management Sciences for Health, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Follow Leslie Friday on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

2 Comments on Global Health in Focus

  • C on 03.06.2012 at 4:52 pm

    Pretty touching stuff—never underestimate the emotive powers of beautiful photography combined with well-chosen music!

    Beyond that, this is a good venue to be showing it as well—to a student audience.

    While students go to college for many different reasons and have many different experiences while they are there, something that I hope all students get out of their education is a sense of the world outside the one they have had personal exposure to and the absolute magnitude of the problems that face our species.

    Additionally, borrowing from one of my undergrad professors, college students in the US, as a population, have an immense power to bring about positive change in this world and, I would add, the responsibility to do so.

    Though knowledge is powerful, images such as these are inspirational. I hope those on this campus choosing the career path they will follow after they leave are exposed to a good deal of both. However much of ourselves we decide to devote to the betterment of others is a personal choice we all make and I hope that students here (and elsewhere) have a college experience that will allow them to make an informed decision when that time comes.

  • Tyler on 03.06.2012 at 6:44 pm

    The subtitle led me to believe that this panel was tonight, Tuesday, instead of Wednesday. Maybe want to correct this?

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