Contagious Cities

Five international writers consider an epidemic from the view point of their own city

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
Comments
01Hiv Aids In Nairobi: Polly Of Kinshasa Street, By Okwiri Oduor20181126

In this special series of Essays, five writers each consider the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. Each is ‘shown’ the city by a disease historian or clinical expert who reveals something of how urban life has been physically and psychologically shaped by an epidemic – some current, some from the past. The journey through the city that the writer and their ‘guide’ took was recorded and the sound of the tour ghosts into the background of each Essay.

"In downtown Nairobi, we walk past nondescript buildings which Dr. Kimani identifies as lodges or massage parlours where his clients work. This, he says, is where the city’s labourers go for quick sex, sometimes during their lunchbreak.
We visit another sex workers’ clinic, located directly across from Liddos strip club. The clinics are always found in close proximity to clients’ workplaces. We stand on the sunny rooftop. On one side is a glass dome that covers the stairwell, and on the other side, a shipping container which is an extension of the clinic’s offices."

In Polly of Kinshasa Street, young Nairobi author, Okwiri Oduor recalls with incredible intensity and sadness, a childhood friend and her mother who suffered from HIV AIDS. She cuts this memory with a current tour of the city given by HIV AIDS worker and Epidemiologist, Dr Joshua Kimani whose clinics across Nairobi, reveal how the disease has infiltrated the lives of people at all levels of society.

This series has been developed by BBC and Wellcome (www.wellcome.ac.uk/contagiouscities) in partnership. They are part of an international collaborative project which explores the interplay of people and pathogens in urban contexts.

A Cast Iron Radio Production for BBC Radio 3.

Five international writers consider an epidemic from the viewpoint of their own city

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

02Polio In New York, By Dava Sobel20181127

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

In this special series of Essays, five writers each consider the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. Each is ‘shown’ the city by a disease historian or clinical expert who reveals something of how urban life has been physically and psychologically shaped by an epidemic – some current, some from the past. The journey through the city that the writer and their ‘guide’ took was recorded and the sound of the tour ghosts into the background of each Essay.

"The world’s first major polio epidemic broke out in New York City in June 1916. It spread quickly from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Pigtown to the other four boroughs. Immigrants who filled the tenement buildings on Manhattan’s lower east side were scapegoated as the probable polio carriers. Here, in the so-called melting pot of New York, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews of Eastern Europe all stood accused."

Author and science writer, Dava Sobel was ‘shown’ New York City in the light of polio by Naomi Rogers, Professor of Medicine and History at Yale University. Their journey begins at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. They made their way Downtown to President Franklyn D Roosevelt’s polio charity HQ and continued up the city to the Rockefeller Institute where pioneering research was carried out on the virus. Dava recalls her own memory of the polio jab and her father’s crowded home surgery in the Bronx where, as a doctor, he carried out many vaccinations.

This series has been developed by BBC and Wellcome (www.wellcome.ac.uk/contagiouscities) in partnership. They are part of an international collaborative project which explores the interplay of people and pathogens in urban contexts

A Cast Iron Radio Production for BBC Radio 3.

Five international writers consider an epidemic from the viewpoint of their own city.

03Zika In Maceio, North East Brazil By Debora Diniz20181128

In this special series of Essays, five writers each consider the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. Each is ‘shown’ the city by a disease historian or clinical expert who reveals something of how urban life has been physically and psychologically shaped by an epidemic – some current, some from the past. The journey through the city that the writer and their ‘guide’ took was recorded and the sound of the tour ghosts into the background of each Essay.

"In April 2015, a laboratory tucked away at the Federal University of Bahia announced that the virus afflicting thousands in Alagoas and other parts of Northeast Brazil was Zika. And by October, hundreds of children were being born with tiny heads. There was talk of an epidemic of microcephaly. It was the first time there were any epidemiological reports of Zika circulating outside of Central Africa or Southeast Asia, and it was happening in my home state, in my city."

Debora Diniz is an anthropologist and law professor at the University of Brasilia and she is the writer and expert on Zika. For this essay she travelled to Maceió in North East Brazil, with colleagues, to visit women she had come to know through her own research in to the virus and its impact on the lives of the mothers and children in the city. She wrote and presented this essay outside of Brazil where she’s living in exile since she brought a case asking for young women to have the right to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The case is still pending, but the political impact has been huge and she’s living under the federal protection programme for human rights defenders at risk.

This series has been developed by BBC and Wellcome (www.wellcome.ac.uk/contagiouscities) in partnership. They are part of an international collaborative project which explores the interplay of people and pathogens in urban contexts

A Cast Iron Radio Production for BBC Radio 3

Five international writers consider an epidemic from the view point of their own city.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

04London And Tb. Tb Stories By Frances Wilson20181129

In this special series of Essays, five writers each consider the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. Each is ‘shown’ the city by a disease historian or clinical expert who reveals something of how urban life has been physically and psychologically shaped by an epidemic – some current, some from the past. The journey through the city that the writer and their ‘guide’ took was recorded and the sound of the tour ghosts into the background of each Essay.

"London air is thick with bacteria, one strain of which – the tubercle bacillus – is a major cause of tuberculosis. The development, also in the 1950s, of the drugs Streptomyacin and Isoniazid led many people - myself included – to assume that TB had been eradicated. But like so much else in London, it had simply gone underground. Of the 9,000 TB patients diagnosed in England every year, 40% are Londoners. London is the TB capital of Europe."

In TB Stories, London resident, the English author and critic Frances Wilson considers TB in her city – currently the European capital for the disease. Her guide to the contagion is Dr Al Story – an unusual mix of historian and clinician. They meet at Keats’ House in Hampstead and through a journey of turns, which included passing the 19th century, light deprived Workhouse, they end up at the Find and Treat mobile van; Al’s project which cares for TB sufferers across the city.

This series has been developed by BBC and Wellcome (www.wellcome.ac.uk/contagiouscities) in partnership. They are part of an international collaborative project which explores the interplay of people and pathogens in urban contexts

A Cast Iron Radio Production for BBC Radio 3.

Five international writers consider an epidemic from the view point of their own city

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

05 LASTSars In Hong Kong, By Dorothy Tse20181130

In this special series of Essays, five writers each consider the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. Each is ‘shown’ the city by a disease historian or clinical expert who reveals something of how urban life has been physically and psychologically shaped by an epidemic – some current, some from the past. The journey through the city that the writer and their ‘guide’ took was recorded and the sound of the tour ghosts into the background of each Essay.

"In April 2003, you stepped off a Tsim Sha Tsui ferry pier and slid a health declaration card into a white plastic box. A body temperature reader swept your forehead. You proceeded alone into the immigration building lift. Inside the lift, the buttons were covered by a transparent plastic sheet. A sign beside them read: Sterilisation will be conducted once per hour. You knew exactly where you were going, but your outstretched finger froze in mid-air. Following the advice of medical experts, you retracted it and pulled a key from your trouser pocket, using the tip to press the button for your floor. On leaving the lift, you found yourself in a hall with only a few, scattered people. The first thing you noticed was their eyes. Eyes without facial expressions, because every single person had their face hidden behind an N95 anti-virus mask. They looked like birds. A head swivelled, a pair of eyes narrowed. Maybe he or she was smiling at you? But what does a bird-smile look like?"

Experimental writer, Dorothy Tse explores Hong Kong as the setting for SARS. She was ‘shown’ the city by Professor Malik Peiris, a clinical and public health virologist who was part of the team who identified what was then a new virus. In this essay the sense of the numbed city, sparsely populated by mask wearing people, traces the disease through hospitals and hotels…

This series has been developed by BBC and Wellcome (www.wellcome.ac.uk/contagiouscities) in partnership. They are part of an international collaborative project which explores the interplay of people and pathogens in urban contexts

A Cast Iron Radio Production for BBC Radio 3.

Five international writers consider an epidemic from the viewpoint of their own city

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Translated by Natascha Bruce