The Best Global Health Stories of 2020, Part 2

Hey readers,

Annalies here! Today, we’re continuing our look back on an extraordinary year for global health, featuring part 2 of our series on the best COVID-19 reporting.
But there was more to 2020 than COVID-19… Tomorrow and Wednesday, look for our picks of the best work that stepped away from the pandemic, illuminating other pressing global health issues.
We were wondering... What stories struck you this year? Maybe there’s something we missed or an under-the-radar story we should keep our eyes on. As ever, we welcome your feedback and ideas, especially now as we take stock of 2020. awinny1 [at] (subject: Hey%20Annalies%2C%20here%E2%80%99s%20what%20I%E2%80%99m%20thinking) (Shoot me an email anytime.)

Gasping for Air in Africa

Grace Anya’s father, Obiefula, diagnosed with pneumonia, did not have to die. But severe shortages of medical oxygen across sub-Saharan Africa robbed him and many patients with severe COVID-19 and pneumonia of a key time-buying treatment. His family tried hospital after hospital—9 in all—across Lagos, Nigeria, only to be told that they had no oxygen, or were not admitting people over 50 years old, or could not treat people who couldn’t produce a positive COVID-19 test.

Sharp reporting from Madlen Davies, Sam Mednick , Angela Onwuzoo in The Bureau of Investigative Journalism & The Guardian, pinned the crisis to exploitation by 2 suppliers that monopolized the market—overcharging and limiting supplies. They also detailed the resourceful strategies African hospitals used in response—like building their own oxygen plants in a Uganda, decentralizing production, and supplying suitcase-sized oxygen concentrators to convert ambient air.

Another must-read: Their creativity will be critical, as global demand for safe, reliable access to medical oxygen has grown exponentially—and 9 out of 10 low- and middle-income countries lack access to the equipment needed to diagnose and treat oxygen deficiency, wrote Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in an exclusive GHN commentary.


An Epicenter’s Epicenter

Iztapalapa, Mexico City's most crowded district and home to the Western Hemisphere’s largest produce market, became an epicenter of one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks by September.

Mexico’s government spending to fight the pandemic was among the lowest anywhere, and ultimately the virus ran rampant among workers who couldn’t afford to stay home. Few in the district were untouched by the virus—and virtually no one has escaped the economic turmoil.

“Starvation [has] haunted people who had never considered themselves poor,” wrote Azam Ahmed in a tour de force take for The New York Times, giving us a detailed view of the impact in country hard-hit, but little-covered in the western press.

How Isolation is Killing the Elderly

“Sometimes the doors to their rooms are open, and you just see someone sitting in a chair with tears running down their face,” said geriatrician Louise Aronson of University of California, San Francisco.

This heartbreaking piece of reporting for NBC Newsfeatured in GHN in October—Suzy Khimm charts the harsh dichotomy between 2 deadly realities for elderly people living through the pandemic: COVID-19—and the isolation it has mandated, which also increasingly appears as its own official cause of death. 

Capturing Glimmers of Hope

Amid a seemingly endless stream of stories about tragedies and uncertainties, there were some stories that spoke to us for showcasing reasons to hope.

The Washington Post’s Ariana Eunjung Cha did that admirably in a sweeping May 13 report on the developing toolbox of treatments and therapies—limited and imperfect, but enough to take frontline health workers from “flying blind” to giving their patients a “better shot at survival.”

Cha deserves accolades for her consistent, thoughtful explanations of the science unfolding at breakneck speed, and for weaving it with the voices of health workers on the frontlines laboring to help more patients.

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