Helen Epstein is a writer specializing in public health and an adjunct professor at Bard College. She has advised numerous organizations, including the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, Human Rights Watch, and UNICEF. She is the author of The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa and has contributed articles to many publications, including The New York Review of Books and The New York Times Magazine. Her research for the article in the November 5, 2015 issue was supported by the Open Society Foundations.


The Strange Politics of Saving the Children

UNICEF’s executive director Jim Grant at the São Martinho children’s shelter, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992

A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children

by Adam Fifield
The United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, was established shortly after World War II to improve the lives of children worldwide, but it was facing hard times when Jim Grant took over as executive director in 1980. In the poor countries where the agency did most of its work, 15 …

Ebola in Liberia: An Epidemic of Rumors

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; portrait by former President George W. Bush from his exhibition ‘The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,’ at the George W. Bush Center in Dallas last spring
Eventually Ebola will be contained in Liberia, and next time people should be ready for it so fewer will die. Maybe none will die if new medicines are developed by then. But the virus has shed light on a far tougher problem. Many Liberians don’t trust their president or her government.


The Cost of Fake Democracy

Police chasing a supporter of Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye, Kampala, Uganda, February 19, 2016

It’s become fashionable lately to disparage democracy. From the failure of “nation building” attempts in Iraq, to the rise of Donald Trump, some see government of the people as a liability in a violent and polarized world. Readers who find such arguments appealing might want to consider moving to impoverished, corruption-ridden Uganda, ruled by President Yoweri Museveni for thirty years through a combination of bribery, blackmail, and brute force.

Uganda: When Democracy Doesn’t Count

Riot police dispersing a gathering of opposition supporters in Jinja, eastern Uganda, September 10, 2015

In exchange for putting Ugandan troops at America’s disposal, Uganda has received some $15 billion in foreign aid from the West since 1990 and a virtual free pass from the US when it comes to human rights violations. Its presidential election on February 18 may be decided outside the voting both.

Who’s Afraid of African Democracy?

Security forces facing off with protesters in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 20, 2015

As the events in Burundi suggest, US support of ugly regimes may ultimately undermine the very stability we are supposedly seeking. In many cases, austerity programs, intended to lead to more efficient government, instead encourage unprecedented corruption.