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RX for Survival: PBS Series on Public Health

Posted by on September 29th, 2005 Posted in: News from NLM

“Rx for Survival”, a six-part PBS television series on public health concerns will air November 1-3, 2005. The series is the cornerstone of a pioneering multimedia project designed to create an understanding of the importance of global health issues in our lives and inspire Americans to get involved in addressing serious health issues.

Co-produced by the WGBH/NOVA Science Unit in Boston and Vulcan Productions, Inc. of Seattle, this project is being sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Merck Company Foundation. Julie Benyo, Director of Education Initiatives at WGBH, recently discussed the series and impact campaign with Keith Cogdill, Outreach Librarian in NLM’s National Network Office. The interview follows:

Can you share some background about the issues that will be covered in the series?

Six one-hour programs, airing on PBS November 1-3, illuminate the state of world health today. The series also introduces the dramatic history of public health pioneers, celebrating their extraordinary struggles, achievements and hard-won lessons. While the historic vignettes feature actors and sets, the documentary sequences were filmed in 20 countries around the world to capture the real-life drama of today’s struggle to overcome poor health and rampant disease. “Rx for Survival” is narrated by actor Brad Pitt.

Each program of “Rx for Survival” underscores the visible and often invisible role public health plays in our lives and in the stability of nations. Personal stories throughout the six programs bring health to life.

  • In program one, “Disease Warriors”, vaccinators reach millions of children in India to eradicate polio and rid the planet of this relentless crippler once and for all.
  • In program two, “Rise of the Superbugs”, healthcare workers in Lima, Peru, fight a dangerous drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis that is threatening the developing world and worrying health officials in the West.
  • In program three, “Delivering the Goods”, doctors and aid organizations fight to help the world’s forgotten refugees, and women in Bangladesh undertake a revolutionary healthcare program that is transforming this once health-poor country.
  • In program four, mosquitoes and other insects carry many of the world’s most dangerous diseases across borders and into the lives of the unsuspecting humans as scientists and health officials struggle to contain these “Deadly Messengers”.
  • In program five, “Back to the Basics”, the building blocks of good health—clean water and nutrition—are put to the test in Uganda and Nepal with stunning success.
  • An innovative HIV/AIDS treatment program in Botswana offers a ray of hope in Africa’s battle for survival as scientists and health officials around the world prepare for an emerging pandemic—avian flu—in program six, “How Safe Are We?”

These are just a few of the stories that are told in the six episodes. And the broadcast series is just one component of this multi-media project.

What are some of the other groups you’re working with to extend the impact of these broadcasts?

The project brings together independent media coverage from PBS, TIME magazine, NPR and The Penguin Press.

TIME magazine will publish a special report on global health that will be available on newsstands October 31. And TIME For Kids will deliver regular coverage of global health topics throughout the school year. Significantly, coinciding with the “Rx for Survival” broadcast, a TIME Global Health Summit will be held in New York, November 1–3. The Summit will bring together international leaders in medicine, government, business, public policy, development and the arts to address the world’s health situation.

Beginning in late October, NPR will cover a range of global health through a series of features on signature programs such as “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered”.

Prize-winning journalist and author Philip J. Hilts’ companion book follows the documentary trail of the “Rx for Survival” series. The book, Rx for Survival: Why We Must Rise to the Global Health Challenge, is published by The Penguin Press and will be available in late October.

“Rx for Survival” also offers high school science and social studies teachers background, lesson plans and resources related to each of the programs in the broadcast series through an online teacher’s guide available at http://pbs.org/rxforsurvival in late October. And the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is developing an undergraduate course about global health that will be available free of charge for interested colleges and universities in mid 2006.

The “Rx for Survival” web site, at http://pbs.org/rxforsurvival , gives users the chance to learn more about global health and become personally involved in efforts to improve the health of people around the world.

A key part of this project is a far-reaching campaign called “Rx for Child Survival”. The broadcast will raise American’s awareness and help them learn more about global health issues. “Rx for Child Survival” will help them get involved in doing something to help, specifically to improve the health of children who bear the brunt of the world’s global health problems. In partnership with international humanitarian organizations including CARE, Save the Children and UNICEF, in conjunction with the Global Health Council and a number of professional, humanitarian and community organizations, “Rx for Child Survival” encourages people to give their time, speak out, and make donations to a special fund that will deliver five life-saving health interventions for children ages 0-5 in the developing world—antibiotics, vaccines, vitamin A and other micronutrients, insecticide-treated netting to protect against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and oral rehydration therapy.

How can libraries participate as outreach partners?

As valued community resources and conveners, libraries can play a central role in helping area residents and special audiences become better informed about global health and learn about ways they get involved and make a difference.

All libraries—public, school, academic, and health-related special libraries—might be interested in holding a screening and discussion of some or all of the programs in the series. Local schools of public health, universities, hospitals, county and state departments of public health and others have experts who would be appropriate to invite to serve as a speaker or as part of a panel of speakers. A library might want to have “themed” events around each of the program topics, with displays and bibliographies containing related books, journals, and web sites.

A library might also offer itself as a location to hold a town meeting to talk about child health issues locally and how the community is part of a larger global village—with health issues extending beyond the local area—to help people understand why global health matters to them.

To help libraries and other groups, we offer a number of activity ideas and resources on our web site at http://pbs.org/rxforsurvival under the feature heading “Give Time.” There are several hands-on activities that librarians can use to engage groups ranging from young children through adults. All of these require no materials or just a few readily available resources. One activity, for example, is a called “Unfair Race.” This is a simple but eye-opening activity that helps participants understand how much of an impact where you live has on your health. Players assume the roles of different countries and examine the extent to which one’s country can help or hinder your health.

There’s a special online outreach toolkit librarians can register to use that has even more activity ideas, step-by-step guides, signage, logos, and more. It’s at http://wgbh.org/rxtoolkit.

How can librarians identify someone at local public television stations who can discuss collaborative outreach opportunities?

The best way to explore mutual opportunities for involvement in the project is for libraries to call their local public television station and ask to speak with someone in community relations or local educational outreach.

Seeding the outreach activities for “Rx for Survival” are 21 community coalitions around the country, each led by their local public television station. These coalitions would particularly welcome the participation of libraries in planning and hosting events. The coalitions are:

    – KVIE, Sacramento CA
    – KPBS, San Diego CA
    – GPB, Atlanta GA
    – WGBH, Boston MA
    – WGBY, Springfield MA
    – MPT, Baltimore, MD
    – WGVU, Grand Rapids MI
    – TPT, St. Paul MN
    – WMOS, Warrensburg MO
    – WTVI, Charlotte NC
    – NET, Lincoln NE
    – WNET, New York NY
    – WIPR, Hato Rey PR
    – WTCI, Chattanooga TN
    – WNPT, Nashville TN
    – KWBU, Waco TX
    – KUHT, Houston TX
    – VPT, Colchester VT
    – KCTS, Seattle WA
    – WPTV, Madison WI

Are there other special programs or initiatives WGBH is producing for PBS?

In the health-related arena, “Frontline” is developing a 4-hour series, “The Age of AIDS”, which will likely air in spring 2006. On the 25th anniversary of the emergence of AIDS, “Frontline” is looking to present the definitive chronicle of the worst pandemic the world has ever known. The series will trace the political, scientific, and human stories and asks, “What are the lessons of the past?” and “How can we use them to stop AIDS now?” We are also working with PBS and other public television stations to launch additional health-related programming in the coming year, although details are still in flux.

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Developed resources reported in this program are supported by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.

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