Scientists and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press Fight HIV/AIDS in Africa

20,000 Copies of New Children's Book Distributed in South Africa

A UNICEF study released in July shows that the vast majority of the world's youth have no idea how HIV/AIDS is transmitted or how to protect themselves from the disease. Yet adolescence is the time when most people become sexually active. In a report from UNAIDS, also released in July, 3 million people under 15 years old are said to be infected with HIV worldwide. Moreover, researchers at the 2002 International AIDS conference reported that almost 6 in 10 new infections each year are in under-15s.

Addressing this urgent problem, a group of scientists and educators, in collaboration with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, have created a unique book for 11- to 16-year-olds that describes HIV, its effects on human beings, and how they can protect themselves against infection. 20,000 copies of the book--Staying Alive: Fighting HIV/AIDS--were distributed free of charge at three locations in South Africa in July 2002. The book's creators hope to soon bring the book to at-risk young people in other countries and in other languages.

[For a widely circulated Associated Press story about the Staying Alive project, go to]

Staying Alive presents basic, scientifically and medically correct information about HIV and its role in AIDS in an accessible and engaging way. The book identifies risky practices and promotes and reinforces safe and healthy sexual behavior with the hope that readers will make informed choices about sexual behavior and its consequences. Using cartoons and lively and direct language, Staying Alive sends explicit health messages about the risks of disease, ways of preventing infection and the building of relationships based on mutual care and respect.


The publication of Staying Alive was initiated by Professor Siamon Gordon, of the Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, who is South African and medically qualified. It was made possible by funds from both an anonymous donor and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The 32-page, 8 inch square, full-color, illustrated paperback was written by Professor Frances Balkwill and illustrated by Mic Rolph.

"Although I may have little reason to be," says Professor Gordon, "I do feel optimistic about the future because so many people are responding to the need to do something themselves. I believe that if young people have knowledge, they will seek to protect themselves."

To gain a close understanding of the current HIV/AIDS crisis facing young people, Balkwill and Rolph made visits to schools, squatter camps, and orphan villages in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal in 2000 and 2001, meeting with students, teachers, medical scientists, and health professionals. Gordon visited similar areas in the Western Cape and had helpful discussions with the South African Medical Research Council. In all these encounters, the urgent need for scientifically accurate, learner-friendly, and culturally sensitive HIV/AIDS educational materials were strongly and consistently voiced.

The book prompted by these South African experiences incorporates artwork created by children during school workshops and combines the authors' unique writing and graphic skills with the publishing expertise of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, a respected educational publisher.

Dr John Inglis, Executive Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and chief editor of Staying Alive, commented that, "educating young people about the risks of infection is vital in preventing the spread of AIDS. This engaging and straightforward book has great potential for good. We hope the initial distribution of 20,000 copies in South Africa will be just a first step in reaching the huge population of young people at risk in Africa and elsewhere."

The first edition of Staying Alive is written in English but designed to make translation and printing in other languages technically simple. It will be distributed through an informal network of teachers and doctors from repositories at three sites in South Africa: Gauteng (Johannesburg), Kwa-Zulu Natal (Mtubatuba) and the Western Cape (Cape Town).

The distribution will be accompanied by consultations with teachers and classroom exercises conducted by Lindsey Rabinowitz, a South African social worker, which are designed to evaluate the book's educational effectiveness and provide feedback for development of other teaching materials.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press books, lab manuals, journals, and other media have assisted research and education in science since 1933. Its catalogue contains more than two hundred books on molecular and cell biology, genetics, cancer, microbiology, development and neuroscience, written and edited by distinguished scientists throughout the world, and a growing range of research journals in print and online.

, the SAFA project, or the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory press, contact Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory at (516) 367-8486, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit

Brief Biographies of the Staying Alive: Fighting HIV/AIDS Group

Dr Siamon Gordon is Professor in Cellular Pathology at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, UK. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where he received his medical training. After further study at Rockefeller University in New York, he moved to Oxford in 1976, where he researches into macrophages and their role in infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis. He visits South Africa regularly and has organized workshops and collaborations there to promote research in these highly relevant areas.

Dr Frances Balkwill, author, is Professor of Cancer Biology at Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, UK. Fran has written numerous children's books including several published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press such as Enjoy Your Cells, Germ Zappers, Gene Machines, and Have A Nice DNA.

Mic Rolph, illustrator, is a graduate of Canterbury College of Art and worked for many years as a graphic designer for BBC television. In 1998, with Professor David Walker, he received a Millennium Award for the Public Understanding of Science. For the past eight years he has concentrated on book illustration and design and his science books for children, with Fran Balkwill, are sold and translated worldwide.

Dr. John Inglis, chief editor, has been Executive Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York, since 1987. Trained as an immunologist, he was Assistant Editor of The Lancet, Founding Editor of Immunology Today and a science correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, where he first wrote about AIDS in 1982.