Jason Beaubien

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.

In this role, he reports on a range of health issues across the world. He's covered mass circumcision drives in Kenya, abortion in El Salvador, poisonous gold mines in Nigeria, drug-resistant malaria in Myanmar and tuberculosis in Tajikistan. He was part of a team of reporters at NPR that won a Peabody Award in 2015 for their extensive coverage of the West Africa Ebola outbreak. His current beat also examines development issues including why Niger has the highest birth rate in the world, can private schools serve some of the poorest kids on the planet and the links between obesity and economic growth.

Prior to becoming the Global Health and Development Correspondent in 2012, Beaubien spent four years based in Mexico City covering Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In that role, Beaubien filed stories on politics in Cuba, the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the FMLN victory in El Salvador, the world's richest man and Mexico's brutal drug war.

For his first multi-part series as the Mexico City correspondent, Beaubien drove the length of the U.S./Mexico border making a point to touch his toes in both oceans. The stories chronicled the economic, social and political changes along the violent frontier.

In 2002, Beaubien joined NPR after volunteering to cover a coup attempt in the Ivory Coast. Over the next four years, Beaubien worked as a foreign correspondent in sub-Saharan Africa, visiting 27 countries on the continent. His reporting ranged from poverty on the world's poorest continent, the HIV in the epicenter of the epidemic, and the all-night a cappella contests in South Africa, to Afro-pop stars in Nigeria and a trial of white mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea.

During this time, he covered the famines and wars of Africa, as well as the inspiring preachers and Nobel laureates. Beaubien was one of the first journalists to report on the huge exodus of people out of Sudan's Darfur region into Chad, as villagers fled some of the initial attacks by the Janjawid. He reported extensively on the steady deterioration of Zimbabwe and still has a collection of worthless Zimbabwean currency.

In 2006, Beaubien was awarded a Knight-Wallace fellowship at the University of Michigan to study the relationship between the developed and the developing world.

Beaubien grew up in Maine, started his radio career as an intern at NPR Member Station KQED in San Francisco and worked at WBUR in Boston before joining NPR.

Before Zika swept across most of Latin America and the Caribbean, the largest outbreak ever recorded had been in French Polynesia. Between 2013 and early 2014, researchers estimate nearly 20,000 people on the cluster of islands in the South Pacific were infected with the virus.

French Polynesia's brush with Zika underscores fears that the mosquito-borne virus could cause devastating neurological problems but it also offers insights into the disease — and hope that Zika can be contained.

"If you are a woman who is pregnant living in the U.S., there's one really important thing you need to know: You shouldn't go to a place that has Zika spreading."

The World Health Organization announced Monday a public health emergency. The cause for alarm is the cluster of birth defects among babies born to mothers infected with the Zika virus, which has spread rapidly through Brazil and much of Latin America since 2015.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In her first major address on the Zika outbreak, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, said the mosquito-borne virus has gone from being "a mild threat to one of alarming proportions." Chan spoke Thursday in Geneva.

Something new — and quite frightening — appears to be happening with the Zika virus.

For decades Zika was a virus that turned up in monkeys and occasionally in humans in Africa and Southeast Asia. Its symptoms were mild and the number of confirmed human cases was low.

The first big outbreak was on the island of Yap in Micronesia. Three quarters of the island's population were infected — about 5,000 people. But few of them reported any symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering a travel warning for countries where Zika virus is circulating. The reason: growing concern among researchers that the virus could be causing babies in Brazil to be born with brain damage.

The Zika virus is named after the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was first identified in the 1940s. For decades it was a rare disease, primarily popping up in Africa and occasionally in Southeast Asia. In 2007, there was a major Zika outbreak in Micronesia. Then in May of 2015 the virus turned up in Brazil.

"Look. Have you seen this?" asks 60-year-old Emmanuel Kwame, who's completely blind. We are standing in his vegetable garden in the village of Asubende in central Ghana. I do see what he's pointing at, but I'm unclear what he "sees." He's tapping his walking stick against a denuded stalk that used to be some sort of plant. "This is palm nuts. It was growing, and some goats came to eat it."

In Asubende, goats are the bane of the blind. Goats are clever. They're quick. They defy gravity and fencing.

One of the problems with river blindness is that it doesn't kill you.

"Messieurs, c'est les microbes qui auront le dernier mot."

"Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word."

That comment from 19th century disease fighter Louis Pasteur is not what you'd expect to see at the start of a report from some of the world's top public health officials. But the report itself has a stinging message: We're not prepared for the next coming plague or pandemic — or HIV 2.0.

Pages