Veteran Foreign Correspondent | New York Times Global Health Reporter
Stephanie Nolen has reported from the front lines of war zones, humanitarian crises and a series of global pandemics, from more than 80 countries and over more than 30 years as a journalist. She is the global health reporter for The New York Times – tasked with tracking the ongoing toll of the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria pandemics, as well emerging diseases that threaten the world, and critical issues of access to care and medicines.
A former bureau chief for The Globe and Mail in Johannesburg, New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City, she has unique insight into the political, economic and social forces that shape how people live and die across the global south.
Her work is followed by readers around the world looking to better understand both the human cost of viruses, from Covid to Ebola to Zika, and also the solutions that communities find to fight back. She is best known as a reporter who always goes there – to meet Pashtun women behind the high mud walls of their homes in the Khyber Pass, and teenagers fighting back against genital cutting in villages in Sierra Leone, and girls fleeing forced marriages in rural India, and AIDS activists fighting for their lives in the township of Soweto. She tells stories that are rich with detail, empathy and inspiration.
Stephanie is the author of 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, which the UN Special Envoy for AIDS called the “best book ever written about the pandemic” and Bono said “will tear you apart before putting you back together.” The book was published around the world, translated into seven languages, won the 2007 PEN ‘Courage’ Award and was nominated for the 2007 Governor-Generals’ Award for Non-Fiction. She is also the author of Shakespeare’s Face, about a mysterious portrait of the great English playwright, and Promised the Moon: the Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race.
The Montreal native holds a Bachelor of Journalism (Hons) from the University of King’s College in Halifax and an MSc in Development Economics from the London School of Economics in England. In addition, she was conferred honorary doctorates of civil law from the University of King’s College, the University of Victoria, Guelph University and the University of Calgary. She is an eight-time winner of Canada’s National Newspaper Award, a four time winner of the National Magazine Award and an eight-time winner of the Amnesty International Media Award. In 2022, she was presented with the World Press Freedom Lifetime Achievement Award.
Covid-19 has upended our lives, but there are things about this strange new world that are recognizable. When you’ve lived in war zones, where the rules are new every day –and a place you could go to yesterday is not a place you can go safely today – you can spot some similarities. Epidemics are not new to Stephanie. She has reported on tuberculosis in India, Ebola in East Africa, the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil and lived for years in the heart of the global AIDS crisis. Lessons from those crises apply here.
The people most vulnerable to this Covid-19, as in most other pandemics, are those who were near-invisible when it began: the elderly in care homes. Workers in meat processing factories. Undocumented construction workers and caregivers. Prisoners. Viruses prey on inequality; we can’t fight this one without working to build a more equal and inclusive society.
Viruses also prey on intimacy, and good public health policy has to acknowledge this. People will change their behaviour in profound ways, and follow myriad new rules for what they must do to stay safe. Then, just once; or every once in a while; they will cheat, or break the rules.
Stephanie has met extraordinary leaders and activists and witnessed how solutions and change come from unlikely places, from often marginalized people. Stephanie opens audiences’ eyes to successful strategies and solutions from these past global challenges and brings awareness to the window of opportunity that exists to leverage this as a moment for change.
In the world’s most impoverished and troubled regions, Stephanie has met and closely followed the work of a handful of extraordinary individuals who have led massive change in their societies. The fight to stop deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon; to end the forced marriage of girls in rural India; to get affordable, life-saving drugs for people dying of AIDS in South Africa: all of those battles had leaders who stood up, alone at first, and at great personal risk, and convinced others who once believed they were powerless to join them in the fight.
In years of telling these stories, Stephanie has identified what these leaders have in common: the ability to imagine a world that is different, the ability to persuade others of the possibility in their vision, and the willingness to stake their own reputation, integrity, or in many cases survival, on bringing change. We can learn from their courage and their experience.
Getting and keeping girls into school has been a major development goal around the world for the past 15 years. Stephanie has reported on the issue in dozens of countries and has seen firsthand which strategies work (and which don’t) when it comes to giving girls access to a good education. She also has seen societies transform when girls do get the opportunity to learn.
Some of the obstacles are predictable, but many are surprising – and so are the solutions. Understanding them illuminates the structures that make societies unequal and how they can be challenged.