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James Nachtwey & the TED Prize – a creative campaign to fight the XDR-TB pandemic
Photojournalist James Nachtwey uses his TED Prize to shine a bright light on the XDR-TB pandemic
"There's a vital story that needs to be told. I wish for TED to help me gain access to it and then help me come up with innovative and exciting ways to use news photography in the digital era." - James Nachtwey
With the recent launch of his Extensive Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB) project, famed war photographer James Nachtwey has brought the full force of his artistic vision and a brilliant international media campaign to bear on the underreported and ever-growing pandemic of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).
Nachtwey has won many prizes in his career, but when he accepted the 2007 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Prize, the photographer was also handed an opportunity to realize a potentially world-changing wish. The result is a broad effort to inform and mobilize the international community about dangerously mutating strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis that, while entirely preventable, continue to spread and take the lives of millions.
"I'm a witness and I want my testimony to be honest and uncensored. I also want it to be powerful and eloquent and to do as much justice as possible to the experience of the people I'm photographing." - James Nachtwey
TED Prize wish: Share a vital story with the world
The hub of this campaign is XDRTB.org, a web site that features a slideshow of Nachtwey's powerful photos of worldwide XDR-TB victims, bringing the pandemic sharply into focus and hammering home the fact that this suffering was, is, and will be preventable.
Supported by the TED community (an organization of the world's cutting-edge thinkers and doers), the project's effort to get the word and the images out has included large-scale, outdoor projections of the slideshow in New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Bangkok; projection on PR Newswire's Reuters Sign in Times Square; intimate, small-scale projections; articles in major news magazines; a viral video campaign; a takeover of YouTube's home page; and outreach through social-networking Web sites.
Throughout his career, James Nachtwey has harnessed the power of news photography to influence events. In realizing his TED Prize wish, Nachtwey and his images are spreading awareness that could save millions of lives.
During the past couple of weeks I've been asked many times why I chose tuberculosis as the subject for my TED wish. Part of the answer is - that it came from experience. Since the year 2000 I've worked on a number of stories involving global health - and I kept encountering TB wherever I went. That TB is a huge health issue became obvious - as did the immense personal suffering being endured by the afflicted - and their families - people who already struggled to get by on the thinnest margin of existence - who were no longer able to work - spent what little they might have saved for medical care and were sometimes forced to sell their small farms to pay hospital costs. I saw so many people in pain, afraid, their way of life broken. My heart went out to them.Despite the fact that tuberculosis afflicts a huge number of people - it's not on the radar screen in terms of public awareness. Maybe because TB is a disease of the poor - located for the most part in the developing world - it gets overlooked. When any critical issue becomes part of our mass consciousness, solutions become facilitated. Funding, research, new initiatives - are all necessary and happen much more quickly once a problem emerges from the shadows.
What makes tuberculosis such a worthwhile target - and please focus on this - it's preventable - it's treatable - and it's curable. With proper funding, organization and, above all, political will, TB can be stopped. Think of that. Millions of lives can be saved and millions more rescued from intense suffering. The medications exist - the means of diagnosis exist - methods of treating the disease exist. With the right combination of factors, money spent and efforts made will actually work.
Keep a place for them in your hearts, make them part of your daily conversation, put them in your prayers... spread the word.
The alternative to effective action has already begun to emerge, and it's a frightening picture. MDR-TB is a mutation caused by inadequate care or misdiagnosis. It's a hundred times more expensive to cure than normal TB, and requires much longer and more painful treatment. XDR-TB is a further mutation, for which there is no reliable cure. I see it as a merciless, man-eating predator lurking in the shadows. If it's not contained, the consequences could be dire. I think I should let the medical experts talk about epidemiology, but because XDR has emerged out of a vast TB-infected population, my reason for choosing tuberculosis as the subject of my TED wish became absolutely compelling.
The fact that an organization like TED exists - a network of brilliant, creative, entrepreneurial individuals who care about the world we live in and have made their resources available to make it a better place - gives me faith in our society. Everything that's been done to make this global presentation possible has been done for the sake of the people you've seen in the photographs - and the millions of others like them. Keep a place for them in your hearts, make them part of your daily conversation, put them in your prayers - when you make a donation, don't forget them. Use this moment as a starting point to learn more: to spread the word.
My wish will not be fully realized until everyone who sees this presentation helps create a critical mass of awareness that stimulates action. TB can be contained and conquered. We can do it. If we don't, who will?
Click here or on above image to watch a slideshow of James Nachtwey's images on XDRTB.org.
What you can do to help
Download the Extremely Drug Resistant Tuberculosis toolkit (PDF) here.