UI officials recognize pair for contributions to public health


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Tropical-medicine specialist Selma Jeronimo usually spends her time caring for people with illnesses in Brazil. Last week, journalist Roger Thurow was travelling through India, researching hunger issues.

As part of the University of Iowa International Education Week, the two met in Iowa City to be awarded by the university in recognition of their efforts in public-health awareness.

Thurow is using his journalism background to investigate and write books on hunger issues in India. Jeronimo researches diseases in Brazil and provides free medical consultation to individuals.

The UI and the International Programs has been giving the award each year since it was created in 2010, although it has traditionally been given to only one individual.

UI President Sally Mason said the International Impact Award sums up the missions of their work.

“These two individuals live the name of this award to the fullest,” she said Tuesday to a full-room audience at FilmScene, 118 E. College St.

Roger Thurow

Roger Thurow is a UI journalism graduate; directly after college, he was assigned to different locations as a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Working as a foreign correspondent in 2003 for the Journal, Thurow was given a story to cover the Ethiopian famine, the worst Ethiopia had seen since 1980, with about one-fifth of the population left without food.

Tens of thousands of people died as a result of starvation and malnutrition. After covering that event, Thurow said, his passion for studying hunger issues was sparked.

“That became a catalyst moment and the focus of my journalism passion and focus,” he said. “It became a story of the soul, a story I had to come back to.”

Shortly after, Thurow left the Journal to study hunger and dedicate himself to his books.

“[I hope to] raise awareness of these issues and generate some outrage of the hunger situation,” he said. “It’s unacceptable that we’ve allowed hunger to carry into the 21st century. We can do something and lead action.”

Judy Polumbaum, a UI journalism professor who nominated Thurow for the award, said he is an inspiration for journalism students who want to do public service work.

“He’s very modest, very humble about his work but the results are really powerful and compelling,” Polumbaum said. “It’s always a thrill when Roger returns to the university.”

Selma Jeronimo

Jeronimo is a biochemistry and medicine professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil.

She commits to research on tropical diseases that affect the people of Brazil. Additionally, she allows UI students to travel to her lab in Brazil and also interact with patients in their homes.

The patients Jeronimo works with often suffer from more than one disease. She said students who work with her benefit from the hands-on learning environment.

“In medical school, we focus on one problem at a time,” Jeronimo said. “And in the real world … you’ll have the complexity of several diseases at the same time. Their thinking gets sharper and it’s a good way to see the complexity of the environment of the diseases.”

Jeronimo said about two or three UI students go to her lab in Brazil and spend six to eight weeks doing research with her.

For others not getting hands-on education, Jeronimo said schools need to advance educational efforts for students regarding disease issues.

“We need to put all efforts in the school system and spend the time to get proper information to break the cycle of poverty and disease,” she said.

Jeronimo travels to Iowa City two or three times a year to work in a lab with UI Professor Mary Wilson.

“The award will set an example to my institution and to my colleagues,” Jeronimo said. “It will give me more energy to work for this goal to educate and empower people to help solve the problem.”

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