Americans have the ability to stop the AIDS epidemic, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mark Schoofs ’85 told students and faculty gathered at the Yale School of Public Health on Wednesday.
Schoofs, a senior editor of the independent nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, spoke to an audience of over 50 students and community members about the treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS in Africa. The lecture, given during the School of Public Health class “Global HIV/AIDS: Challenges and Response” and sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism, suggested that the key to ending the AIDS epidemic is a combination of three existing prevention and treatment options: circumcision, “microbicide” gel and an antiretroviral drug.
“We can end AIDS as an epidemic,” Schoofs said. “We can do that now with the tools we already have.”
Schoofs won a Pulitzer in 2000 for his international reporting in an eight-part series on AIDS in Africa for the Village Voice.
The United Nations estimates that 34 million people are living with AIDS, including 10.6 million in Africa who actively require treatment, Schoofs said. But only a little more than half have access to care, he added. Circumcision is a single procedure that reduces the likelihood of a man contracting HIV by 60 percent, Schoofs said. In Africa, circumcision is associated with manliness in certain tribal contexts, he said, but even if groups and tribes are willing to be circumcised, they often do not have access to resources. Still, he said, politicians and policymakers often find the issue “too charged” to support openly.
Schoofs also suggested that women use a microbicide gel developed in the past two years that blocks viruses and is applied vaginally. The gel reduces the chance a woman will get infected by 39 percent, he said. The gel is also odorless and colorless, he added, so a partner does not need to know a woman is using it.
“Women have never before had a method that they alone can control,” Schoofs said.
In addition, Schoofs spoke about a recent antiretroviral drug, proven to work earlier this year and nicknamed “treatment as prevention,” that makes people 96 percent less likely to transmit HIV.
If these three treatments and prevention methods are deployed simultaneously, they can create a layer of protection that helps lower the infection to death ratio and end the AIDS epidemic, Schoofs said.
Although these methods are effective, Schoofs said he recognized the difficulty in funding and implementing treatments for those most at risk. People who just contracted the disease, Schoofs said, might not take their drugs every day or use antiretroviral gel every time they have sex.
One member of the class that hosted Schoofs, Jackie Bruleigh SPH ’12, said she enjoyed hearing him talk but wished he would have elaborated more on media interest in and depictions of the disease because of his journalism background.
Nicholas DeVito SPH ’12, who is part of the Yale Global Health and AIDS Coalition, said he thought people needed to hear about the AIDS epidemic.
“He’s doing a great job creating awareness about science in an information age,” DeVito said.
In addition to the Pulitzer for his AIDS coverage, Schoofs was also part of the Wall Street Journal team that won a 2002 Pulitzer for its breaking news reporting of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.