Geoffrey Cowley

Stories by Geoffrey Cowley

  • A Tale of Two Indias

    Thirty-five-year-old Rama Devi is not exactly an icon of good fortune. She and her five children live in a dusty, thatched-hut village called Kashiou, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. She once had a husband, a man who spent most of the year selling fruit on the streets of Mumbai, but he contracted HIV during his travels and came home a few years ago to die. Devi is now HIV-positive herself. She works as a casual laborer in the wheat fields around her village, receiving her daily pay in grain. But Devi's luck could be worse. She happens to live within 20 kilometers of Allahabad, where the Uttar Pradesh Network of Positive People runs a drop-in center--and she has a brother who can spare a few precious rupees to get her there each month for a free checkup, followed by a five-hour bus ride to the nearest government treatment center. Nearly 800,000 of India's 5.1 million HIV-positive people are now sick enough to need the kind of medication that keeps Devi alive to feed...
  • The Deadliest Cancer

    Lung cancer kills more Americans than any other type of malignancy—and some of the victims never smoked. But despite grim statistics there is some good news: fresh research offers hope for earlier diagnosis and more-effective treatments.

    Five years ago, Blaise Judja-Sato was living a rural African's dream. Born poor in Cameroon, he had worked his way into elite schools and become a prosperous American. At 36, he was living in Seattle and traveling the world to cut deals for Teledesic, a satellite communications venture started by Bill Gates and Craig McCaw. Then he found his calling.It happened in 2000, after freak rains caused devastating floods in southern Africa. Horrified by the televised images of homes, crops and livestock being swept into the sea, he used his U.S. connections to raise $1.5 million for relief efforts in Mozambique. Then he visited the country. "I've never seen so much dignity and generosity," he says. "People who had lost their families and communities still wanted to share what they had. I knew then and there that I had to do more to help, and not just during the floods. Even in normal life, they lacked the most basic necessities."So he quit his job and started a new life. He now spends more...

    Learning you have breast cancer is bad enough, but the diagnosis is doubly devastating for the 20 to 30 percent of patients who turn out to be "HER-2-positive." Tumors carrying that designation grow with unusual speed, and are more likely to recur after treatment. "Hearing you have HER-2," says Darlene Nipper, 40, "is like hearing a death sentence."Not anymore. Last week researchers confirmed that Herceptin--a drug previously reserved for metastatic breast cancer--can help keep high-risk patients from reaching that desperate stage. In two clinical trials involving 3,300 newly diagnosed HER-2-positive patients, those who got Herceptin along with conventional chemotherapy suffered only half the recurrence rate of patients on chemo alone. The Herceptin patients were also more likely to be alive and disease-free four years later. "We don't like to overstate things, but the results are stunning," says Dr. JoAnne Zujewski of the National Cancer Institute, which sponsored the trials...
  • Family Matters

  • The Flu Shot Fiasco


    Imagine you're allergic to the oil of the Japanese lacquer tree--so allergic that the brush of a leaf against your skin provokes an angry rash. Strapping a blindfold over your eyes, a scientist tells you she's going to rub your right arm with lacquer leaf and your left arm with the innocuous leaf of a chestnut tree. The rubbing commences, and before long your right arm is covered with burning, itchy welts. Your left side feels fine. No surprise, until you learn that your left arm--not the right--is the one that got lacquered.Or imagine that Parkinson's disease has reduced your walk to a shuffle and left your hands too shaky to grasp a pencil. You enroll in a study and receive an experimental surgical treatment, which dramatically improves both your gait and your grip. You're ready to declare it a miracle of modern medicine, when you discover that the operation was a sham. The surgeons merely drilled a small hole in your skull and then patched it.That thoughts and feelings can affect...
  • Brain Check

  • Medicine Without Doctors

    In Africa, just 2 percent of people with AIDS get the treatment they need. But drugs are cheap, access to them is improving and a new grass-roots effort gives reason to hope
  • Girls, Boys And Autism

    Is This Mysterious And Sometimes Devastating Condition Just An Extreme Version Of Normal Male Intelligence? That's One Provocative New Theory. Behind Autism's Gender Gap.
  • Beware Of Those Legal Drugs

    Four decades after Timothy Leary implored a generation to "turn on," getting high remains a common college pastime. Only the methods have changed. Many of today's most widely abused drugs are perfectly legal--at least when prescribed by doctors. But that doesn't mean they're harmless.Caffeine-based stimulants such as NoDoz and Red Bull are safe in moderation. But steer clear of products containing ephedra (a.k.a. ma-huang). This herbal stimulant, which raises blood pressure and heart rate, has caused several deaths in recent years. Prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are also best avoided unless your doctor prescribes them. Though useful for treating attention problems (and less dangerous than cocaine or methamphetamine), they can foster depression and dependency when abused.Even more dangerous are prescription painkillers such as morphine, codeine, OxyContin and Vicodin. These drugs are addictive and can be deadly when taken in large doses or mixed with alcohol. So...
  • Our Bodies, Our Fears

    Anna-li Yaron will never forget the first time she heard the bomb siren go off. It happened in early February while she was sitting in class at Charles Smith High School for the Arts in Jerusalem. Her teacher had warned the class about the drill in advance, so there'd be no surprises. But when the high whine of the siren filled the air, Yaron, 16, found herself gripped by terror. "I froze," she recalls. A moment later, she panicked and screamed. "Everyone laughed at me," she says. "I even laughed at myself afterwards. But it wasn't funny."Why would Yaron, safe and sound at school, react as though her life were in danger? The answer lies partly in Yaron's psyche--and also in the world around her. In recent weeks, Yaron's life has been filled with preparations for war. Her parents have been stocking up on masking tape, plastic sheeting, trash cans and tins of food in case a missile attack from Iraq forces them to remain indoors for days at a time. She and her classmates have practiced...
  • Our Bodies, Our Fears

    As They Reach For The Duct Tape, Americans Say They're More Anxious Than Ever. Scientific Research About How Our Brains And Bodies Process Fear Can Teach Us How To Live With Long-Term Stress.
  • A Better Way To Eat

    Americans Have Grown Fatter And Sicker Since The Usda Food Pyramid Came Out A Decade Ago. Is There A Healthier, Tastier Diet?
  • Confronting Smallpox

    The defeat of the deadly smallpox virus still stands as one of modern science's most stunning achievements. The wretched disease engulfs the body in pustules that itch and ooze and often blind or disfigure victims who survive. Smallpox killed a half-billion people between 1880 and 1980, the year the World Health Organization declared the disease "eradicated." The victory was fueled by a vaccine that uses a milder but still-dangerous relative of the smallpox virus to provoke an immune response. The vaccine hasn't been used widely since the early 1980s, but the specter of bioterrorism has resurrected it. Last Friday, President George W. Bush ordered vaccinations for U.S. military personnel serving in high-risk areas. He also announced plans to offer the shot to health-care and emergency workers--and eventually to the public. "It is prudent to prepare for the possibility that terrorists... would use disease as a weapon," Bush said.But does vaccination pose a greater risk than the...
  • Now,'Integrative' Care

    As Science Rigorously Examines Herbs And Acupuncture, A New Blend Of Medicine Emerges
  • In The News: A Quick Hiv Test

    Learning that you're HIV-positive may seem an awful fate, but not learning can be worse. People with undetected HIV not only miss out on early treatment but risk spreading the virus unwittingly. Reliable tests are easy to find, but because they take up to two weeks to evaluate, many patients fail to check back for their results. Now a test called OraQuick, approved for marketing last week, can yield dependable results in just 20 minutes.The doctor or technician administering it places a drop of the patient's blood in a small vial of solution, along with a dipstick that develops a single dark line when submerged. If the blood sample harbors antibodies to HIV, the stick develops a second line as well, and the patient immediately gets counseling.OraQuick detects antibodies that may not appear until three months after a person contracts the virus, so it won't pick up new infections. But it will make AIDS testing easier, and that alone could save lives. OraQuick should reach the market...
  • Certified Organic

    Stamp Of Approval: New Government Rules Will Define 'Organic.' The Sale Of These Fruits, Veggies And Snack Foods Has Soared, But We Still Aren't Sure What Good They Do. Here's A Guide To How Purer Products Affect The Health Of Our Families And The Planet.
  • The End Of The Age Of Estrogen

    Women Were Told For Decades That Hormone-Replacement Therapy Would Protect Their Hearts And Preserve Their Youth. Now The Evidence Is In, And An Era Is Over.
  • Sowing Seeds Of Redemption

    Eileen Kiniery had just stepped off a New Jersey commuter train on September 11 when the first of two jets hit the World Trade Center. She is still haunted by the faces she saw pressed against the tower windows over the next hour, the stray limbs and torsos in the street, but she is equally awed by the communion she experienced. When the towers collapsed she joined several others--two Caribbean women, an African-American man and a very pregnant white woman--to flee the flaming wreckage. "I stopped this poor Chinese man in a minivan. He doesn't even speak English, and I'm like, 'Please take us to 34th Street!' He said, 'OK, OK, come on.' The beauty of that day is that we were truly one people." ...
  • How Little We Really Know

    What a difference a month makes. When a tabloid photo editor died of pulmonary anthrax in early October, not even the tabloids conjured a terrorist plot. And when it turned out there was a terrorist plot, experts assumed that the risk to most people was minimal. Unless powder has been spilling conspicuously from your hate mail, they said, you don't have much to worry about. In a sense that's still true. According to a Nov. 2 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the anthrax attack has caused just 16 known infections (there was another confirmed case at the weekend) and four deaths. Yet the outbreak continues to defy expectations. The letterborne spores have spread far more widely than anyone could have predicted. And the death last week of a woman lacking ties to any known source of contamination has left investigators to wonder who might be stricken next. "Some of us thought we were bioterrorism experts," Surgeon General David Satcher lamented last week. "We...
  • New Heart, New Hope

    Does This Tangled Knot Of Titanium And Plastic Represent The Future Of Cardiac Medicine?
  • Can He Find A Cure?

    There was a time in the early '80s when AIDS was killing people with brutal efficiency, and no one knew what caused it. Was it swine-flu virus? The inhalants that gay men were using to heighten sexual pleasure? There was no telling who would be stricken next, or what it would take to stop the new scourge. But as soon as researchers identified the AIDS virus in 1984, the ultimate solution seemed obvious. Science would vanquish AIDS just as it had polio, measles and smallpox: by immunizing people against it. In announcing the isolation of HIV, federal health officials famously predicted that a vaccine would enter clinical trials within two years and reach the market within three. Seventeen years later experts still agree that a vaccine is our best hope of ending the pandemic. They also agree that we'll be lucky to have even a crude one on the market by 2007. At current rates, an additional 50 million to 100 million people will have contracted the virus by then--most of them in...
  • The Search For A Vaccine

    NEWSWEEK: How did the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative get started?Seth Berkley: The conceptual work for IAVI began in 1993-94, when I was still at the Rockefeller Foundation. We launched it officially in 1996, with one person and $100,000. We now have 30 full-time people and another 20 part-time. Our operating budget this year is $24 million. We've raised about $230 million, and our goal is to have $550 million by 2007. This is a unique organization in that we fully intend to go out of business. There's no attempt to build an endowment, no attempt to build a long-term career structure. The idea is to solve a problem.I gather that of the $20 billion the world spends on AIDS each year, only $350 million goes into vaccine research.That's probably high. Of the $350 million nominally spent on HIV vaccines, only about $50 million to $70 million goes into product development, and only $20 million is spent directly on the developing world.How fast is the science advancing? Are today's...
  • Heartsick America

    We've just had our heart checked, and the news isn't good. According to a federal report released last week, some 36 million Americans should now be taking drugs to lower their cholesterol. That's nearly three times the 13 million who qualified for treatment under the government's previous guidelines. Why the change? Not because we're actually sicker than before, says Dr. Claude Lenfant of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, but because the benefits of cholesterol reduction are so clear. "We can now say with certainty that lowering a high blood cholesterol level dramatically reduces a person's risk for coronary heart disease," Lenfant declared last week. ...
  • The New Animal Farm

    If you had to pick the likely stroke victim from a lineup, Amanda Davis is not the person you'd choose. On the eve of her 20th birthday, the sweet-faced New Englander was driving home from college to visit her parents when she started feeling queasy and uncoordinated. She pulled over and asked her friend to drive. Then she woke up in a hospital bed. A stroke had paralyzed the entire left side of her body. No one expected her to walk again. ...
  • New Ways To Stay Clean

    When Colin Martinez turned 43 a couple of years ago he was living under a bridge in Denver. By his count, he had devoted 31 years to getting wasted. "I smoked crack or freebased for 16 years," he says. "I injected heroin, injected cocaine, snorted cocaine and heroin, popped pills, smoked opium, smoked pot and hashish. I took anything--a lot of it on the same day." He worked off and on after quitting high school in the '70s. He also married and had several kids. But addictions crowded everything else out of his life. He stole from employers to keep himself in drugs. He skipped out on his family for weeks a time. And despite countless trips through detox, he never really got clean. "If they were hassling me about cocaine," he says, "I'd do something else instead." When he awoke one morning to find his buddy's cold corpse beside him, he knew he was approaching the same end.Things couldn't be more different today. In a last-ditch rescue effort, Martinez's father sent him to the...
  • Going Super Slow

    For 10 years Dr. Philip Alexander ran 60 miles a week--and on days when he didn't run he would put in time on his bike. Then, five years ago, he really got serious about physical fitness. The 56-year-old Texas internist now spends just 20 minutes a week exercising, and he rarely soaks his shirt. Using weight machines, he works through a half-dozen muscle groups, diligently exhausting each one. Then he gets on with his life. "When I was running," he recalls, "the next day I would feel I was run over by a truck." The new routine never leaves him feeling bonked, but that's not the best part. Alexander has shed some 20 unwanted pounds since switching regimens, and his waist has shrunk by four inches.Could fitness be this simple? For three decades we've heard endlessly about the virtues of aerobic exercise. Medical authorities have touted running and jumping as the key to good health, and millions of Americans have taken to the treadmill (however sporadically) to reap the rewards. But...

    "The president has cancer" is always an arresting phrase. But by the time we got confirmation of Bill Clinton's case last week, he had already been cured. Doctors scraped a suspicious lesion from the president's back during his annual physical Jan. 12, and tests later revealed it was a basal-cell carcinoma. Though it qualifies as a malignancy, BCC is nearly as common as gray hair--and far more treatable. Recognized early, it leaves nothing but a small scar to remind you of the sun's more serious hazards. Unfortunately, BCC is on the rise in this country, and so are its deadlier cousins.Skin cancer typically affects people over 50, but the pattern is starting to change. "We used to see [BCCs] mainly in old people," says Dr. Martin Weinstock, the Brown University dermatologist who heads the American Cancer Society's skin-cancer advisory group. "Now we're seeing them in people in their 20s and 30s." Sun exposure is a key risk factor for all three of the leading skin cancers--BCC,...

    This just in: those high-fat, low-carb diets really work! So do those low-fat, high-carb diets! You really can lose weight on the chocolate-eclair plan! The catch is, you have to eat less.Thus concludes a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Faced with a growing obesity epidemic--and an onslaught of fad diets that restrict some type of food--the agency assembled an expert panel to review the evidence on diet and weight. Its findings, released in summary form last week, reaffirm what most obesity experts have maintained all along. As the report's authors put it, "Caloric balance (calories in vs. calories out), rather than macronutrient composition, is the major determinant of weight loss." If you're slimming down on a diet of bacon and butter, it's not because you've reset your metabolism, as some diet gurus would claim. The truth is, people on low-carb diets average only 1,414 calories a day, whereas the typical American downs 2,200.The question is whether there are...