The World’s Penicillin Problem

Late in November 2016 I received news I had been granted generous funding from the European Journalism Centre to investigate an ongoing penicillin shortage affecting multiple countries.

With this project I aim to investigate the causes and consequences of a long worldwide shortage of this essential medicine, especifically the injectable form of the antibiotic Benzathine Penicillin G.

Lack of access to this medicine, listed as an essential drug by the World Health Organization, can have dire consequences as it is the primary treatment for syphilis and for rheumatic fever – illnesses that affect millions of people worldwide.

The stories will look into the supply chain of this medicine to understand what is leading to shortages; into the victims who can’t access this drug; and will examine what are the risks of antibiotic resistance associated with penicillin shortage and misuse of substitute drugs.

The funding will allow me to do fieldwork in a few countries, including India, South Africa, Brazil and England, UK.

I have been lucky to assemble a great coalition of news partners, including Al Jazeera English (international), El Mundo (Spain), Folha de S. Paulo (Brazil), Quartz (international) and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (UK), which have all agreed to run the stories.

While I am the project lead, I will also have the support of Ashley Kirk, data journalist at The Telegraph, who will be assisting me with everything data-related.

This is a longer term news project, expected to be released between March and April 2017. More details about what I will be working on for the next few months can be found here.

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