Romanian Journalists, Carter Center Representatives Learn About University of Georgia Health Initiatives

Collaboration between health experts and professional communicators can lead to successful health campaigns and to a better informed public, Dr. Jeffrey Springston, a noted health communication expert, told two Romanian journalists and eight representatives of the Carter Center Mental Health Program during their visit to the University of Georgia in June.

The one-day program at the University of Georgia was organized by the James M. Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

“Shift in emphasis, treating speculation as fact, failure to place the information in a larger context and omitting important aspects of the research methods are some of the common problems in the media health stories,” argued Dr. Springston. “It is crucial for journalists to understand that they have a huge responsibility when they report such issues. Do they fail to cite sources of information? Do they over-generalize findings? All these errors might have a negative impact on their audience and later on the credibility of their media organizations.”

Dr. Springston, who is associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Grady College and a faculty member in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, is an expert on the use of communication messages to promote public health.

The program at the University of Georgia included meetings with Dr. Springston as well as with Dr. Luke Naeher, a professor in the College of Environmental Health Sciences, and Dr. Raj Rao, a research scientist in the Animal Science Research College.

The two Romanian journalists in the program were Ioana Avadani, director of the Center for Independent Journalism in Bucharest, and Agnes Nicolaescu, administrator assistant of the Romanian center. They had been in the United States for three months in a program funded and coordinated by the Carter Center. The goal of the project is supporting improvements in the Romanian mental health service system through journalism.

Thomas H. Bornemann, director of the Carter Center Mental Health Program, and a team of seven other Carter Center staff members accompanied the journalists to the University of Georgia program.

Dr. Tudor Vlad, assistant director of the Cox Center, outlined for the visitors the international activities conducted by the center, focusing on the health and environment communication training programs conducted by the Center in Latin America and East and Central Europe. “Here, in the United States, there are many programs for health journalists that could be easily adjusted and implemented in developing countries,” Dr. Vlad said.

Dr. Naeher described to the visitors his involvement in the training program for Peruvian journalists organized by the Cox Center in April 2004 in Trujillo. “When Dr. Lee Becker leaned about the work of the UGA Department of Health Sciences in Latin America, he asked me to join him in a training program for journalists,” Naeher explained.

Two U.S. journalists with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel also were discussion leaders in the program, which focused on developing sources for health stories, covering health epidemics, women's health issues, and techniques journalists can use to evaluate the quality of health care provided to the public.

As part of the program the group visited the UGA Regenerative Bioscience Center in the Rhodes Animal Science Complex. Dr. Raj Rao, research scientist in the center, gave a presentation on human embryonic stem cells and their potential use in treatment for diseases.

“Human embryonic stem cells are a hotly debated issue in this country, from ethical, legal, political and political perspectives,” Dr. Rao said. “Stem cells can be derived from adult tissue, but these cells have a much more limited use. Embryonic stem cells can be engineered to differentiate into many types of cells. It is this ability that makes us believe that these stem cells may lead to treatments for diseases, such as diabetes and Parkinson's.”

“I think the program at the University of Georgia has been useful both to our Romanian guests and to the Carter Center representatives,” said Thomas H. Bornemann, director of the Carter Center Mental Health Program.

In addition to working with health professionals, the Carter Center program awards 10 fellowships every year to U.S. and foreign journalists who produce materials on mental health issues.

“Reporters often are the best communicators to the general public, but they need training,” Bornemann said. “Today, we’ve had the opportunity to learn how the Cox Center has collaborated with other UGA schools to develop training programs for journalists in the health area.”

The Carter Center's Mental Health Program was founded in 1991. The program focuses on mental health policy issues with four strategic goals: (1) To reduce stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses; (2)To achieve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care; (3) To advance promotion, prevention, and early intervention services for children and their families; and (4) To increase public awareness worldwide about mental health and mental illness and to stimulate local actions to address those issues.