Dan Rutz says sustained media coverage key to AIDS free generation

Posted on 10/11/2012

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Former CNN senior medical reporter Dan Rutz visited Zimbabwe this week with the message that an AIDS free generation is attainable through continued media coverage and proactive government communication.

“We know for the first time it is possible to consider an AIDS free generation,” said Daniel Rutz, now working as Health Communication Specialist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. “It is important to keep the momentum in AIDS reporting because the public is still interested. You can use a breaking news story as a springboard for other stories — that’s one way of making it relevant,” said the former TV correspondent turned public health communicator.

Rutz was in Zimbabwe on a two day visit and was guest speaker at a breakfast roundtable for members of the Women Journalists Mentoring Program (WJMP) at the U.S. Embassy’s Eastgate offices on Tuesday.

Following 18 years at CNN, Rutz is currently leading the CDC communication strategy and media engagement for HIV prevention in southern and eastern Africa.  CDC is part of the U.S. government’s Department of Health and Human Services and works to protect people from health threats throughout the world.  CDC’s Zimbabwe office was established in 2000 and has grown with in-country needs and the US government’s greater focus on HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment programs around the world.  As part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, CDC/Zimbabwe, USAID and other U.S. Embassy agencies are investing more than $90 million in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe this year.

During the discussion, Rutz said journalists need to “understand that when you are reporting on health especially, people’s lives might be at stake.  A good gift to have is empathy, be able to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.”

Rutz offered tips on how journalists can enhance their coverage of HIV and AIDS “A lot of health news can be tied to medical literature. Because science is such a disciplined field, peer review will try to pick out a fault with it and you will essentially defend it,” said Rutz.  He said that in addition to government health authorities, journalists can find a wealth of information in international peer-reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine (published every Thursday), the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

But more importantly, he said, journalists should cultivate good relations with major universities in the country.

The public health communicator served as Managing Editor and on-air Sr. Medical Correspondent for the CNN domestic and international television and radio networks went on to emphasize the important role government plays in providing timely and credible information to journalists. “I tell this to CDC people — you can’t stall, they need you when they need you.  Don’t consider them a nuisance; consider them a way to do your job better.  They (the media) are a vehicle to the public,” said Rutz.

The Women Journalists Mentoring Program (WJMP) entered its second year last month by welcoming 14 journalists from various media houses throughout Zimbabwe.  The program, implemented jointly by the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Center and the U.S. Embassy, develops professional and leadership skills for women in the media.  Participants are selected through a competitive process and spend one year being mentored, meeting senior media leaders from around the world, attending short courses, and visiting journalists in neighboring countries.  Rutz hailed the program, noting there are still significant discrimination challenges for women journalists in both developed and developing countries.

“We have come a long way,” said Rutz, narrating the story of his wife who was denied a job at the Associated Press in the 1970s because she of her gender. “And all I can suggest to you is keep at it, persevere, and prove that you are worth it.  It’s a shame that you have to do those things, but you unfortunately do.  Show that you are smart, show that you are capable and show that you mean business and you will prevail.” — ZimPAS © November 7, 2012

Source: – @USEmbassyHarare Newsletter

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