Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Priscilla Reining, ~1923-2007

The Washington Post writes about the life and research of anthropologist Priscilla Reining who died on July 19 at the age of 84.

She was a distinguished scientist who held three degrees in anthropology from the University of Chicago, but she was also, according to those who knew her, a courageous and groundbreaking example to other women.

In 1953, she moved to Tanzania with her infant son, the first of her three children, and lived near a Haya village for two years. At the same time, her husband, Conrad C. Reining, was conducting research in Sudan.

They fled a Sudanese uprising in 1955.

"We were lucky to escape," Robert Reining said. "My father knew a back road out of Sudan into Congo. He led a whole convoy of people, and they escaped."

In the 1970s, Reining spearheaded an African satellite mapping project.

Robert Reining took a year off from college in the mid-1970s to help his mother on an early satellite mapping project. Whole regions of Africa suddenly came into view. Scientists could measure the advance of the Sahara Desert, and governments and lending agencies could plan drought and famine relief.

"These were the first images available to anyone outside the intelligence community," said her son. "For the first time, we could count the villages. You had what was effectively the first reliable population estimate of this area."

Reining is best known for her analysis of patterns of HIV infection in different African populations which found that uncircumcised African men were 86% more likely to get infected with the AIDS virus. Not surprisingly, her results were met with skepticism, but subsequent studies have confirmed the correlation.
But finally, at an international AIDS conference in Sydney last week, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, declared, "We've had one important breakthrough this year, with understanding the role of circumcision in prevention."
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