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From Symptom to Story: Understanding an Epidemic of Kidney Disease in Central America

May 10, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm  |  Humanities 1, Room 210


What does it mean to construct a “cause” of disease? What is the primary source material we consult as we write the narrative of a new disease? When it comes to public health, how do we fairly and accurately reflect scientific evidence, personal experience, and community knowledge? In this talk, journalist Anna Maria Barry-Jester will use these questions to chart the history of a particular epidemic of chronic kidney disease that, since the early aughts, has been recognized as a leading cause of death in parts of Central America. In the two decades that followed, the global understanding of this condition has expanded to a growing list of communities, including war-torn parts of Sri Lanka, agrarian sectors of India and migrant guest workers from Nepal. Drawing from nearly 20 years of reporting — including interviews, photography, video, and scientific literature — Barry-Jester will explore the shifting narratives of the emergence of a disease and interrogate what becomes evidence and how it informs public understanding of disease and its causes.

Please email Jennifer Derr ( if you would like to RSVP for this event.

Anna Berry JesterAnna Barry-Jester is a public health reporter with ProPublica. Previously, she was a senior correspondent covering public health at Kaiser Health News. Her series “Underfunded and Under Threat,” with colleagues at KHN and The Associated Press, investigated how chronically underfunded public health departments buckled under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic. The project won awards from the Online News Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her reporting on harassment and menacing threats endured by public health officials was the basis of an episode of “This American Life,” and PEN America later awarded its PEN/Benenson Courage Award to the officials who she profiled. Barry-Jester has lived and worked in Latin America and Southeast Asia, where she has reported, photographed and filmed stories in more than a dozen countries. She was a writer at FiveThirtyEight and a producer at Univision and ABC News.

This event is part of the “Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine” Sawyer Seminar series.


May 10, 2023
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm


Humanities 1, Room 210
1156 high st
Santa cruz, CA 95060 United States
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