27 days in Brazil: Anton Delgado ’20 publishes Pulitzer Center-funded project on leprosy

During his final Winter Term session, the journalism and international & global studies double major traveled to northern Brazil to report on the country’s resurgence of leprosy, learning about the infectious disease, the people fighting it, and himself as a journalist.

Anton L. Delgado interviews Edmilison Picanco, the president of a local advocacy group, at the Center of Dermatology in Marituba, Brazil. The reporting on Picanco was used in Delgado’s fifth field note. Photo by Moises Silva.

It is accurate to say that Anton Delgado’s perspective on reporting changed during his nearly month-long investigation as a Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow this winter examining Brazil’s ongoing fight against the resurgence of leprosy.

“As a reporter for the last four years, I’ve always thought that it was my job to tell people’s stories,” said the 2020 Elon University graduate. “I go out there, I interview you, and I tell your story. But my time in Brazil made me realize that’s not my job at all. My job is to give people the tools to empower themselves to have their stories heard. I’m simply a channel to help them reach the greater public.”

While many Elon students travel the world during Winter Term, visiting new continents and immersing themselves in a new culture, Delgado spent his final January as an undergraduate a little differently than most, reporting on a resurgent infectious disease forgotten by many. As part of his Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellowship, Delgado traveled to the state of Pará in northern Brazil to report on the spike in leprosy cases that’s gone underreported internationally. During the past few weeks, the center has published Delgado’s in-depth story, titled “Shorthanded Specialists Struggle to Address the Resurgence of Leprosy in Brazil,” as well as five field notes compiled during his investigation.

“The core of the Pulitzer Center is covering underreported topics,” Delgado said. “I wanted to make sure the story I was working on mirrored the goals and values of the organization.”

The journalism and international & global studies double major spent 27 days in Brazil investigating how the disease is affecting the region and also exploring and highlighting the individuals at the forefront of the fight against leprosy.

After a month of reporting on leprosy in the field, Anton L. Delgado takes a leprosy evaluation test at the Center of Dermatology in Marituba, Brazil, just to make sure he didn’t start a leprosy outbreak at Elon. Delgado documented the process for his fourth field note. Photo by Moises Silva.

“Leprosy is actually also an issue in The Philippines, which is home for me,” Delgado said. “So when I was looking into the topic, I realized Brazil was the only country in the world that was seeing an increase in cases and I hadn’t seen any reporting on it. I realized we simply just weren’t talking about it.”

Leprosy is an infectious disease that can cause severe nerve damage and disfigurement. It is incredibly hard to diagnose, and tough to treat. Currently, there are only three drugs that work to help curb its effects.

During his time in Brazil, Delgado spoke with numerous patients, doctors and residents to understand the entire scope of the outbreak. As a precaution, he took a leprosy evaluation before heading home – see the video. The overall experience and investigation continues to stay with him.

“The person who I think about the most has to do with the ‘Back to School’ field note that I wrote,” Delgado said. “I worked with a translator and wasn’t able to speak to the people I was interviewing directly. But the main source that I spoke to, her name was Maria, was someone who I seemed to connect with in a really deep way even though I couldn’t speak with her directly. Her will to continue to learn even with everything the disease had taken from her is something I’ve thought about to inspire myself.”

While on campus, Delgado was a member of Elon News Network, serving as The Pendulum’s managing editor during his senior year. He collected several accolades during his undergraduate studies, including being named the Best News Reporter in the South and the Best Feature Writer in a 2019 competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. Additionally, he earned the Outstanding Senior Award in Journalism from Elon’s School of Communications in May. He said his time with ENN, as well as his experience with the Pulitzer Center project, has only helped solidify his career aspirations.

“That’s the dream,” said Delgado, when asked how his Pulitzer Center experiences impacted his future career goals. “To travel the world telling underreported stories in communities that simply aren’t being served is the absolute dream. Being able to work with the Pulitzer Center was a test for me to see if I was really cut out for this.”

The Elon alumnus has already gotten a few reps reporting from faraway places. He studied abroad and reported from Morocco during his junior year, and the following summer served as a News21 Fellow based in Arizona and traveled extensively throughout the West Coast.

Delgado’s work and passion, if anything, is proof that he is more than cut out for his dream. But what exactly is that dream assignment?

“If I had to pitch another story, as of right now, I’d want to travel back to the Middle East to report on hajj, which just got canceled by Saudi Arabia,” Delgado said. “I’d like the opportunity to go to the country that lost the most number of hajj visas, and report about how Muslims are taking the cancellation, and how they’re trying to adapt their faith during COVID-19.”

In the meantime, Delgado is participating this summer in the inaugural Intern Corps program for the North Carolina Local News Workshop, producing stories for North Carolina media outlets in digital, print, broadcast and social media platforms.

Elon and the Pulitzer Center

Elon University is one of the Pulitzer Center’s more than 30 Campus Consortium partners, an educational initiative that brings Pulitzer Center staff and journalists to Elon’s campus twice a year. With Elon’s membership in the consortium, students — like Delgado — have the opportunity to work with the center on developing international reporting projects, which have been featured on the center’s website and can be disseminated through media partners.

Past Elon students who have participated in the student fellowship initiative have investigated topics such as the Catholic Church’s future in Ireland, the internet’s impact on a rural Guatemalan town, the de-radicalization in London prisons, and the economic gender reversal in post-genocide Rwanda.