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Seema Yasmin

Emerson Collective Fellowship

Mapping the overlap of news deserts and medical deserts to better understand communities doubly vulnerable to disease.

Seema Yasmin is a doctor, epidemiologist, poet, and award-winning medical reporter. She trained as a journalist after serving as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she investigated disease outbreaks and witnessed firsthand that viral misinformation can spread in tandem with pathogens. Yasmin was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting in 2017 with a team from The Dallas Morning News, a recipient of an Emmy for her reporting on neglected diseases, and a two-time awardee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

She is currently a clinical assistant professor in the Stanford University Department of Medicine, and director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, which promotes equity in health care by improving the way doctors and scientists communicate with patients, the press, and the general public. She is a visiting assistant professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, where she teaches crisis leadership and communication, and is the author of “Muslim Women Are Everything,” the forthcoming “Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them,” and the forthcoming poetry collection, “If God is a Virus.”

While barriers to health care and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color have been documented, unequal access to health information in communities of color has not been comprehensively mapped. For example, epidemiologists are only just beginning to understand access to broadband internet as a determinant of health.

As an Emerson Collective Fellow, Yasmin is working at the intersection of medicine and the media to map health care and health information access across the U.S. Yasmin's “Health/Information In/Equity Map” will document medical deserts and news deserts, and reveal "double deserts"—regions where communities are doubly vulnerable to disease and disinformation about disease because they lack access to health care and accurate health information. Yasmin's map will be a multilayered, multimedia tool that challenges the perception that marginalized and othered communities are a monolith, or that the health information needs of all communities are the same.

Yasmin hopes this map inspires the creation of collaborative projects that engage affected communities, builds bridges between scientists, journalists, and the people they serve, and leads to more resilient communities that are empowered through equitable access to health care and health information.

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