Hollywood Stars Raise Awareness of Global Health on Capitol Hill

Why Law & Order: SVU covers HIV/AIDS, rape in Africa, and more 

March 24, 2010, Washington — Top celebrities of Law & Order: SVU gathered with key Congressional policymakers tonight on Capitol Hill for a lively discussion about the entertainment industry's portrayal of global health issues.  

Called "Global Health in Lights: Hollywood's Master Storytellers & Stars Highlight Global Health in Entertainment," the event was hosted by Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center.

Panelists included actor Mariska Hargitay and Executive Producer Dr. Neal Baer, both of Law & Order: SVU (NBC).  They were joined by Representative Donald M. Payne (D-NJ), as well as Sally Canfield, Senior Program Officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Serving as honorary co-hosts were Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  

Law & Order: SVU's Executive Producer Dr. Neal Baer is a Harvard-trained physician and practicing pediatrician. "At Law & Order: SVU, we incorporate global health topics into our scripts not only because they are important, but also because they are dramatically compelling," said Baer. "Many Americans may not be familiar with the significant health problems faced by people in the developing world. As storytellers, we also have the unique opportunity to shed light on these critical issues."

Actress Mariska Hargitay is an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and has started a foundation to help them, called Joyful Heart Foundation.  They spoke about their commitment to covering HIV/AIDS, sexual violence, and other global problems, and why accurate depictions of global health issues in American primetime TV are critical to saving lives and reducing disease around the world.  Hargitay specifically addressed the issues raised in last week's episode, "Witness," about rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Sexual violence and the healing journey of survivors are the backbone of my advocacy work," said Hargitay.  "After receiving powerful feedback from women who had seen my character supporting victims of sexual assault on Law & Order: SVU, I founded the Joyful Heart Foundation. We're dedicated to helping survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse take the profoundly courageous steps towards reclaiming lives of hope, possibility and joy."

Moderating the panel discussion was Sandra de Castro Buffington, Director of HH&S, who showed how viewers of global health-related TV shows learn about and get involved in global health topics such as HIV/AIDS.  "Not only will viewers remember key health information incorporated into storylines," explained Buffington,  "they will be inspired by these shows to learn more, to call hotlines and to search the web for information. This increased knowledge can lead to healthier personal behavior, heighten their awareness of global health issues, and even impact policy."

Hollywood, Health & Society, a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, is a one-stop-shop for television writers, producers and others in search of credible information on a wide range of public health topics, including free consultations and briefings with experts. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The California Endowment, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Institutes for Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration, Hollywood, Health & Society, is based at the USC Annenberg School's Norman Lear Center.  The HH&S Global Health Initiative focuses on entertainment education around critical global health topics such as HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria, Polio, Neglected Tropical Diseases, and Maternal & Child Health. For more information about resources for writers, visit www.usc.edu/hhs.

The Norman Lear Center is a multidisciplinary research and public policy center studying and shaping the impact of entertainment and media on society. Based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the Lear Center works to bridge the gap between the entertainment industry and academia and between them and the public. For more information, visit www.learcenter.org.

Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism is among the nation's leading institutions devoted to the study of journalism and communication, and their impact on politics, culture and society. With an enrollment of more than 1,900 graduate and undergraduate students, USC Annenberg offers Bachelor's, Master's and doctoral degrees in journalism, communication, public diplomacy and public relations. For more information, please visit www.annenberg.usc.edu.


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