Award-Winning Science Author Addresses Students

Laurie Garrett, an award-winning journalist, best-selling author and expert in public health and infectious diseases, shared her research, insights and wisdom on pandemic threats, government preparedness and the future of public and global health in a fascinating talk delivered largely to medical students last week.

During her November 3 lecture, Garrett shared many of the disturbing conclusions of her new book, I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks, including how the government grossly under-estimated the public health impacts of those nightmarish events.

Reminding students that indifference has consequences, she noted that eight years later, nobody – not even investigators – paid attention to a deadlier and longer-running anthrax outbreak in the United Kingdom because all the victims were heroin users who injected anthrax-laced heroin. What investigators chose to ignore, she said, is that the poisoned drug was traced to Afghanistan, a country that obviously could pose a bio-terrorism threat to Europe and the rest of the world.

“As you all go out to practice medicine you’re going to find out over and over and over again that the prejudice against a population group because of their behavior, their race, their ethnicity, gets in the way of properly perceiving threats and diagnoses over and over and over again,’’ Garrett said. “HIV would not be a global pandemic on the scale it is today if homophobia had not reigned and dominated the way the world perceived the first initial cases that were observed.’’

Garrett, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for her chronicles of the Ebola virus outbreak in Zaire, is a senior fellow of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, of which UM President Donna E. Shalala is a member. Her guest appearance at the Miller School was co-sponsored by the Department of Medical Education, the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, and SPARK – students promoting action, responsibility and knowledge.

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