Malaria is like a metal spring compressed by the massive effort to suppress it, one analyst said. Authorities have to finish the fight against the disease or it will rapidly uncoil and roar back, as it did after the failure of 1950s-era eradication efforts.“If we relax our efforts, even for a moment, this thing will come back and be worse than before,” said Sonia Shah, a science journalist and author of the 2010 history of malaria, “The Fever.”Shah acknowledged that malaria is a difficult opponent, partly because it is so widespread — with 207,000,000 cases in 2012 and 627,000 deaths — partly because its biggest impact is in parts of the world with few resources, partly because traditional healers are often the first to treat sufferers, and partly because many people in malaria-endemic countries have already gotten the disease so often they can be blasé about it.Shah compared it to driving a car in this country: Many people die in car accidents, but people drive so much that most don’t worry about the dangers when they hop behind the wheel. That perception that malaria is low-risk is partly due to familiarity, but also because many adults who have had repeated cases have developed some immunity to it, so their cases are relatively mild.Shah was part of a panel that discussed malaria on Monday at the Barker Center’s Fong Auditorium. The event, “In Our Blood: Challenging Millennials to End Malaria,” was sponsored by the Harvard Undergraduate Global Health Forum, along with the Harvard Defeating Malaria Initiative. It featured Shah, Kate Otto, a global health consultant with the World Bank, and John Brownstein, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital. It was moderated by Maggie Koerth-Baker, a science journalist and Nieman Fellow at Harvard this year.Panelists questioned whether today’s strategies are most effective at the community level, or whether the success of certain strategies in attracting funding may make them more popular than others that might be just as effective. Shah said that the final eradication of malaria in the United States is often attributed to the discovery of the pesticide DDT, but malaria here was actually on the decline before DDT came on the scene. It was put on the run by practices such as draining wetlands, upgrading housing, and paving dirt roads, where standing water provided potential breeding sites for mosquitoes.Panelists said institutional failures have hampered efforts to fight malaria and resulted in rising drug resistance in the parasite, widespread counterfeiting of malaria drugs, and insecticide resistance in the mosquito that delivers the parasite. They also said solutions must reflect local concerns and values to be effective.But there have been positive developments. Recent renewed efforts have pumped billions of dollars into the fight against the disease at a time when technology has provided what Otto called “one of the greatest discoveries of the 21st century” — the cell phone. The communications revolution in the developing world has led to drastic changes in just the past five years, Otto said, providing new ways to communicate, to reach patients and providers, to order supplies, and to perform other functions that previously weren’t easily possible. Today, Otto said, she can reach someone in a rural Ethiopian village as quickly as she can a colleague down the hall, a change that provides immense opportunity.Otto urged students eager to join the fight against disease to consider whether their efforts are directed in areas that are truly useful, or instead are in areas that are appealing because they offer a quick result.“When we aim to do good in the world, we look at what it is that we can do and achieve rather than what is really needed,” Otto said. “We’re encouraged to move quickly and think quickly, to move at the speed of technology.”Brownstein added, however, that technological innovations are still needed in public health and that there are many areas where a small improvement can make a difference, even through “a little chunk at a time.”Bianca Mulaney, co-president of Harvard Undergraduate Global Health Forum, said she hoped the event would provide insights beyond just malaria.“We’re hoping this discussion is not relevant only to malaria but to all global health issues,” Mulaney said.
Last Thursday, Catherine “Cathy” Pieronek, an associate dean in the College of Engineering and the director of the women’s engineering program, passed away suddenly at the age of 52.According to College of Engineering Dean Peter Kilpatrick, Pieronek proved to be a champion of the women engineers on Notre Dame’s campus, but also on a national level. Students have recalled her dedication to the engineers and also to the school as a campus leader who sought to continually improve the University and, specifically, the College of Engineering.In an email, Kilpatrick described one of Pieronek’s large contributions to the women’s engineering program that dealt with residence halls. When Pieronek joined the engineering faculty in 2002, female enrollment in the college was lower than it was now, and each women’s residence hall only had “one to two” engineers living in it.“This meant that women who wanted to study with their classmates and other engineers would have to go to another residence hall (often a male residence hall) and when the parietals require women students leaving male dorms at midnight (despite whether the homework or studying was all finished), this placed a hardship on the women engineering students,” he said.“So Cathy, in concert with others in the College, got [the Office of Residence Life] to start clustering women engineers in fewer dorms so women could develop natural study partners in their own residence hall. This strategy, and many others, has led to a dramatic increase in both the retention and the numbers and percentages of women in engineering here at Notre Dame. We are now well over 30 percent, a remarkable increase in the last 10-plus years. Cathy played by far the dominant role in this transformation.”Kilpatrick and others recalled her tendency to be extremely direct with students in her role as an advisor.“I have so many memories of Cathy, but perhaps my favorite memory was when I shared with her recently how grateful a parent was for the direct and forceful advice that Cathy gave his son on the occasion of struggling academically and disciplinarily and the way the young man had been able to turn things around with Cathy’s support and encouragement,” he said. “Cathy gave me a simple ‘aw, shucks’ response and immediately deflected the accolade.“This was classic Cathy. She did what she did for our students because she was deeply committed and cared about them as persons. In this regard, Cathy taught us how to be fully human and fully Christian.”Senior Cecilia Ruiz said she met Pieronek when she was a first-year engineering student and member of the First Year Engineering Council.“What I remember the most is her passion to education and her devotion to her students,” Ruiz said in an email. “She touched many lives with her advice and picked up many of us who struggled through some of our semesters.“Always understanding, but firm, she encouraged me to continue in my endeavors and challenged all whose lives she touched to be the best version of themselves. I can’t think of a better role model to follow as an aspiring female aerospace engineer, and I am grateful for her presence in my life.”Senior Maggie Miller said her relationship with Pieronek began during her freshman year. She said Pieronek took an interest in her summer job with Notre Dame’s Introduction to Engineering Program and talked to her frequently throughout the summer.“Most of the conversations we would have were about how we could make the College better, how we could improve the perception of engineers on campus,” Miller said in an email. “This was especially pertinent to me as I have been heavily involved with various performing arts groups during my time at Notre Dame, and Cathy always took a surprising interest in this and in other students that were leaving their mark on campus in areas other than engineering. She wanted us to feel like we were students and to get away from seeing ourselves as nerds who could only sit in their rooms and study.“She fought relentlessly for the students in the College, and even though she was often very hard on struggling students they were always better for it. Tough love was definitely her approach, but it was in fact a deep love that she showed the students.”Miller said Pieronek was especially important for the women of the College, which she witnessed firsthand as a student representative on the College of Engineering Council.“I remember in one meeting looking around and realizing that Cathy and myself were the only women in the room of 20 or so other people, and Cathy always played a large role in running those meetings,” Miller said. “She became someone I very much wanted to emulate in her confidence and in her caring.”Senior Ryan Griffin said Pieronek cared about all her students in the College of Engineering, which led to a tough but rewarding mentoring style.“She expected you to own up to your mistakes and act like an adult,” Griffin said in an email. “But if you were capable of doing that, Cathy would match you every step of the way working with you, teachers, the department, advisors, you name it, in order to help you succeed. She was also an incredible mentor to the students who got close to her.“Those of us who were lucky enough to call her a mentor will forever treasure the advice she gave us and carry her words with us in our careers.”Tags: Cathy Pieronek, College of Engineering, SWE, Women’s engineering
By Faith PeppersUniversity of Georgia A late spring freeze followed by heavy rains were a blessing for some Georgia blueberry growers. But they brought more hard work to others, according to University of Georgia experts.The heavy rains delayed harvest of the southeast Georgia crop, causing some early concerns about highbush berry quality. “We had to work harder to make grade due to the heavy rains this spring, but it’s turning out to be good year for rabbiteye growers,” said UGA Cooperative Extension blueberry agent Danny Stanaland.“We grow two blueberry crops in Georgia – highbush and rabbiteye,” Stanaland went on to explain. The highbush crop in some areas of southeast Georgia, which is the state’s major commercial production area, “was hit hard by the late freeze and will produce only about 35 to 50 percent of the crop.” Robust rabbiteye cropFortunately, blueberry fans all over Georgia can expect a bumper crop from the rabbiteye variety. “It will be the largest crop of rabbiteye blueberries we’ve had in several years,” Stanaland said. That’s especially good news for Georgia’s 300 blueberry growers. The majority of the crop is rabbiteye variety, and about 10 percent of the total crop is highbush variety. “The highbush variety blooms and fruits early, making it more susceptible to the low temperatures and rain,” Stanaland said. “But, May 20 we finished harvesting highbush. That crop is gone.” Growers are now harvesting rabbiteye berries in three phases. “The early rabbiteye berries were wet and had some grading issues because it required more selective picking to get the good berries,” he said. “Now that it’s dry again, it’s much easier to harvest and grade, and fruit quality is very positive. We have the heaviest rabbiteye fruit set we’ve had in years. So, while we were short on highbush berries, we are going to be long on rabbiteye.”Pick-your-own timeIn the northern half of the state, where most blueberry operations are pick-your-own, growers are reporting larger-than-normal berries and an abundant crop, just in time for many markets to open this weekend. In 2008, Georgia blueberry growers harvested more than 14,000 acres of blueberries with an off-the-farm value of close to $61 million dollars, slightly above the five-year average. This year, growers expect to harvest between 12,000 and 14,000 acres, but that figure could surge as high as 15,000 to 20,000 acres, according to Stanaland and county Extension agent reports. About 75 percent of those acres are in southeast Georgia. Prices are holding steady in spite of the abundance of available fruit this year, which usually drives prices down. Growers are getting about $14 per flat — or $1.40 per pound — for fresh berries, only a shade lower than last year’s price.