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Fielding School Associate Dean for Research Finds New Role: COVID-19 Media Expert

As COVID-19 has grown from a localized outbreak in Wuhan, China to a world-wide public health pandemic, Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang has taken on the role of trusted, go-to source for both Chinese and English language media.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

When Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang was 15, he was one of more than 16 million students sent to the Chinese countryside to accept “re-education.” The year was 1969, and China was in the midst of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Zhang was soon chosen by farmers to become a “barefoot doctor,” bringing basic preventive medicine to the rural poor under the Rural Cooperative Medical System program.

More than five decades later, Zhang is a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and his native China operates under a far different political structure.

He has continued to devote a portion of his time to conducting research in China on the major risk and protective factors for four of that country’s leading cancers – lung, stomach, esophageal, and liver – and targeting preventable risks that could be influenced through policies, including smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, indoor air pollution, and water pollution.

At the Fielding School, Zhang manages multiple responsibilities in addition to his role as a researcher. He leads the Cancer Epidemiology Training Program, teaches in the Department of Epidemiology, and serves as associate dean for research.

But in the past few months, as COVID-19 grew from a localized outbreak in Wuhan, China to a world-wide public health pandemic, he has become something else: a trusted, go-to source for both Chinese and English language media.

“In January, I was interviewed by (The Intellectual), an on-line news media outlet, and I mentioned it was very, very critical to take (preventative) actions when you have an outbreak, without even knowing whether there was human-to-human transmission,” Zhang says. “I said we had a bad experience in (the 2002-2003) SARS outbreak and we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes. That interview drew a lot of attention; over a million readers read it.”

Subsequent interviews by English language media, including the Huffington Post , the Star, the Arizona Daily Star, and China Digital Times as well as Chinese-language media in China, Hong Kong, and Southern California have all had similarly impressive readership. The media have ranged from Reference News, published by Xinhua, the official state-run press agency of the People's Republic of China and, some say, the most influential media organization in China, to Chinese-language Channel 18 in Southern California.

“Information must be transparent. It is key to let the public know what is going on,” Zhang says. “In the United States, thankfully, we can get up to date information at all times, not just from the government but from multiple sources. Right now I’m trying to let people know the truth about what is happening here (in the U.S.) and give them the facts, not the rumors.”

A partial list of Zhang’s interviews, print and on-line and in both English and Chinese, include the Huffington Post, Arizona Daily Star, Nikkei Asian Review, The Star, China Philanthropist, the People’s Daily On-Line, Global Times, News Sina, China News Weekly, Sina Technology, Science Live, Southern People’s Weekly, Xinhua, and Caixin. His broadcast appearances have included Science Public Welfare Broadcasting in China, Phoenix TV (Hong Kong), Shanghai Oriental TV (Shanghai) and Los Angeles (Channel) 18 in the United States.


Written by Brad Smith and Dan Gordon