Washington, D.C., November 13, 2006 - Journalists covering health stories in Africa should avoid preconceived notions, seek out doctors' advice for their stories and use available resources on the Internet, a group of experts said Thursday.
"The field (of health) is changing very fast," said John Donnelly, a Boston Globe reporter, who spent many years covering health stories in Africa. Some changes are positive, Donnelly said, including drugs that prolong life for those infected by HIV and efforts to hold down malaria with bed nets and spraying.
He urged journalists not to have "preconceived notions" about what they will find in their reporting. Moreover, he said that despite the huge attention HIV/AIDS in Africa has received, there are other deadly diseases to investigate, including malaria.
Donnelly, speaking at a panel discussion, "Health Journalism in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities," said that, as a foreign correspondent, he often had an easier time than his African colleagues getting access to information.
Sunday Dare, chief of the VOA Hausa Service, concurred, saying journalists in Africa frequently don't have the resources or time for in-depth coverage of health issues. Additionally, they can face cultural and religious inhibitions in covering stories.
Deborah Mesce of the Population Reference Bureau said many reporters in Africa are eager for training to overcome a "knowledge gap" about health issues. And some diseases, particularly those dealing with reproductive health, are not explored fully because of stigma.
Jennifer Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which works in Africa, pointed out that journalists are able to get more information than ever on the Internet. Specifically, she noted the website www.globalhealthreporting.org that serves as a clearing-house for information.
The panel was held to mark the release of a new Health Journalism CD-ROM for Africa. The CD, funded primarily by USAID, includes materials on HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, malaria, tuberculosis, polio and anti-microbial resistance, tailored for journalists in Africa. The CD is distributed free of charge.