These scientists are racing to prevent the next Ebola

Published by: VICE News July 6, 2016

Reported by Adriana Cargill and Lydia Randall in Thailand for the Medill McCormick National Security Journalism Initiative and VICE News, Fall 2015

TAO PUN, Thailand – A strange and undulating black cloud billows from a cave on the mountainside. It looks like tar-coated smoke and sounds like rushing water. The dark mass shifts and pivots as the sunsets over the golden spires of a nearby Buddhist monastery and the surrounding green rice fields of western Thailand.

The cloud isn’t smoke. It’s the massive nightly departure of Thailand’s largest bat colony in search of a tasty insect breakfast. And just below the mouth of the cave is a team of Thai scientists waiting to catch them. They’re not so interested in the bats themselves but rather what they carry: viruses.

Their work to understand the pathogens these winged mammals carry has the potential to save millions of lives. And they’re not alone; health officials and governments around the world are racing to collect the same type of information from other wildlife that are believed to be “reservoir hosts” or the sources of diseases like Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Avian Influenza H5N1.

They’re uniting under an approach known as One Health, a pioneering new way to tackle one of the modern world’s most difficult challenges: predicting and preventing the next emerging pandemic, or disease that knows no boundaries and has the potential to kill millions.

These scientists are focusing on zoonotic diseases, or those that originate in animals and jump to humans. Over the last 60 years, they’ve accounted for more than 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases globally. Some, like Ebola, have killed thousands. The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, a disease that originated in primates, has killed an estimated 34 million people, and counting. Others, like SARS, have caused billions of dollars in economic damage. 

But what if HIV could have been stopped before it became the global pandemic we know today? What if it could have been stamped out during the decades it smoldered and sparked in rural African villages? And importantly, can we stop one that hasn’t happened yet?

In our increasingly interconnected world, it takes a single virus, hitching a ride on an infected human, less than 24 hours to reach most of the world’s metropolises. That’s why the work these Thai scientists are doing in this tiny town just two hours outside of Bangkok is so important.

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Published by: The RedEye Chicago, Nov 2015

First published by Medill Reports, Made in Chicago June 2015

Reported, written and photographed by: Adriana Cargill

Web design by: Kate Morrisey

This is not a job for the faint of heart. Mike Almore, John Vergara and Bobby Acuna are three outreach workers who wake up every day to work with youth who live and struggle to survive in violent communities. Community violence is often thought of as gang violence, but it also includes: sexual violence, domestic abuse, bullying, shootings in public places or anything that creates "warlike" conditions and psychological trauma.

In 2011, Chicago had an estimated 100,000 gang members in more than 70 gangs, making the Windy City the most gang-infested city in the country according to the Chicago Crime Commission's Gang Book released in 2012. The Chicago Police Department recovered an average of more than 13,000 guns a year in 2006, 2007, 2008, more than New York and Los Angeles combined for those same years, according to the same report. In 2012, Chicago had the highest murder rate in the nation, and has been in the top three cities with the most homicides since 1985, according to Pew Research Center.

The YMCA's Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Program, YSVP, headquartered in Pilsen, uses a holistic approach to violence prevention. The YSVP team believes that youth who are repeatedly exposed to traumatic stress are at risk for developing coping mechanisms like drug use, self-harm and gang involvement. They work with boys and girls ages 12-18 who come from low-income households predominantly from Chicago's South and West sides.

What makes Almore, Vergara and Acuna able to positively impact the youth they work with is complicated. To do it successfully, they need to be not only dedicated and intuitive, but also resilient in the face of adversity. Youth expressed overwhelmingly how important it is to them that they can relate with these mentors. They're from the same or similar neighborhoods as the kids they work with. They have an intimate and often personal understanding of the challenges these youths face. They've struggled with many of the same challenges: being born to poor families, going to poor schools, living in very poor communities, where many of their friends overdose, are murdered, join gangs or go to prison. Women in these communities often have children at a very young age, continuing the cycle.

The YSVP Co-Executive Director Eddie Bocanegra says that sometimes people just lose hope.

"I think my best staff members here are the people who have suffered the most," Bocanegra says. "The question I have is what did they do with that suffering? That's where they've found much of their resiliency; in their own suffering. In the midst of those ashes they have come out of all that hardship to do this type of work."

Bocanegra believes that Almore, Vergara and Acuna embody a deep sense of hope. It's not just about relating and empathizing with these youth; it's their extraordinary resilience and drive in the face of adversity. Rather than drag the sins of their former lives like a ball and chain, they have chosen to take those same traumas and use them as weights to strengthen the communities they work in. They are citadels of hope.

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Garcia makes last minute push to get voters out

Published by: Medill Reports

April 7, 2015

With two hours left to go, voters this afternoon reported empty polling stations and low turnout in Chicago’s first runoff mayoral election.

Turnout could prove critical to the outcome of this election, especially for the grass-roots campaign of Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who has cast himself as a man who represents working class Chicagoans. In contrast, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has battled an image as a politician who represents corporate and wealthy interests.

“The people who concern me most are the people that we identified as voters who are sympathetic to us and we are reaching out to them,” Garcia said at a noon rally in West Town. “If we get them out, we win, it’s as simple as that.”

Earlier this morning as light drizzle fell on the city, Garcia was all smiles as he encouraged Chicagoans to vote for him at the Jefferson Blue Line and at the Merchandise Mart Brown and Purple Line “L” train stops.

“It’s a great day to exercise democracy in Chicago,” said Garcia.

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Constellation brands boasts strong earnings propelled by beer business

Published by: Medill Reports

April 9, 2015

Constellation Brands Inc. exceeded analysts’ expectations for its fourth quarter and projected strong gains in sales and earnings, driven by booming import beer sales in the U.S. But the stock, which has enjoyed a strong run in recent months, barely budged.

In the quarter that ended February 28, the Victor, N.Y.,-based leading purveyor of beer, wine and spirits earned $214.6 million, or $1.06 per diluted share, up 37 percent from $157.2 million, or 79 cents per diluted share, in the year-earlier quarter. Analysts estimated 92 cents per share.

Sales rose 5 percent to $1.36 billion compared with $1.30 billion in the same quarter a year ago. “They’re still firing on all cylinders,” said analyst Jon Staszak of Argus Research. “Imported beers are very popular, beer demand is very strong. They had a nice run, probably because of a great quarter and conservative guidance which led to tempered gains on the day; really great quarter. I’m still bullish on the shares.”

Dan Wood, an equity research associate at Morningstar, contends that Constellation will be able to sustain growth in the beer sector for the next 10 years. In an interview, Wood pointed out that its beer portfolio is popular with the U.S. Hispanic population, which is projected to continue growing, and that millennials tend to drink beers at higher price point than their parents, such as imported beers or craft beers.

Wood said, “These trends are more generational; the growth in the Hispanic population and millennial spending power don’t look like they’re going to abate any time soon.”

Constellation CEO Rob Sands stated in a conference call he’s excited about the prospect of more growth in the beer business. Sands said a current brewery expansion in Mexico is progressing as planned, on time and on budget.

Sands said the company will continue to increase advertising and has invested in a joint venture glass manufacturing facility in Mexico.

Nevertheless, he declared, this is “the year of the can.” Sands said cans are “a huge growth opportunity” for the company; “around 20 percent of the company’s total business is in cans…in an overall market that’s around 50 percent cans.”

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