Public Health Expert Helen Epstein will be the first President’s Forum Speaker of the 2011-2012 academic year. A well-respected public health specialist and molecular biologist who has conducted research on AIDS and reproductive health in developing countries, Epstein will join the Hobart and William Smith community for a public talk entitled “Why we are Losing the fight against AIDS in Africa” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, in the Geneva Room. Epstein is the author of “The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West and the Fight Against AIDS” and an adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
In 1993, Epstein moved to Uganda in search of an AIDS vaccine on behalf of Chiron Corporation and Case Western Reserve University. While there, she taught molecular biology in the medical school at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.
It was in Uganda, upon realizing the vaccine on which she was working would not be effective, Epstein began writing “The Invisible Cure.” The book is an autobiographical account of her work in Uganda and observations of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in developing countries. The book was a New York Times Notable Book of 2007 and rated the No. 1 Science Book of 2007 by the editors at Amazon.com. It was published in paperback by Picador in 2008.
“Amid the partisan babble, Helen Epstein has for years generated some of the most sensible commentary around, posting dispatches from AIDS-afflicted countries in Africa to The New York Review of Books and other publications,” said a New York Times review. “As a scientist morphed into a journalist, Dr. Epstein combines an understanding of the biology of AIDS with a coolly impartial view of the political and social landscape of Africa. She has now assembled more than a decade’s worth of reporting into an enlightening and troubling book.”
Epstein’s research on reproductive health and AIDS in Africa has been for such organizations as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Population Council and Human Rights Watch. Her articles have appeared in the New York Review of Books, Granta Magazine and many other publications. She focuses primarily on the right to health care in developing countries and the relationship between poverty and health in industrialized countries. She has advised numerous organizations on HIV prevention and public health in developing countries, including the United States Agency for International Development, The World Bank and UNICEF.
Epstein earned the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 2003-2004, and a year later served as a visiting research scholar at the Center for Health and Wellbeing at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. In 2005, she earned the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award from the Fund for the Advancement of Social Services.
She earned her B.A. in physics from the University of California-Berkeley, her M.Sc. in public health in developing countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and her Ph.D. in biology from Cambridge University.
Established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, the President’s Forum Series is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members. Before serving as President of HWS, Gearan was the director of the Peace Corps. He also served in the White House as Assistant to the President and Director of Communications, as well as Deputy Chief of Staff during the Clinton administration.