Auteur / Author : Angela Dawson ONLINE
Titre / Title : Malaria and the Media Advocating Healthy Policy and Practice in Sub- Saharan Africa
Collection / Series :
Editeur / Publisher : London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, U.K EN
Année / Year : 2005   Nbr. Pages :      132 p. / 3,2 Mb     Taille / Size


Evaluation / Book review.
Malaria and the Media Advocating Healthy Policy and Practice in Sub- Saharan Africa
A Report of a baseline study undertaken in Nairobi, Kenya and The Gambia from the 21st January – 16 February 2005 for the Gates Malaria Partnership, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, U.K.

Executive Summary
”The notion that communication is a crucial ingredient in the daily struggle against malaria is irrefutable. Nowhere is this more important than in Africa which shoulders 89% of the worlds global malaria mortality burden (RBM 2005). The strategic framework of the Roll Back Malaria communications working group identifies the mass media as an important channel for malaria communication (CWG 2005).
There are few studies on the way in which malaria is reported in the mass media in Africa and the impact this has at various levels. The Panos Foundation report into the Media and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic (2003) finds that the media can challenge individual behaviour; however it is much more likely to have an impact in terms of stimulating public debate and in challenging long established social norms. Essentially, the media can go much further than simply acting as a vehicle for information dissemination; it can also provide a forum where a number of voices are heard that challenge, encourage or champion government policies.
Media advocacy should be seen as a key strategy in malaria control, though in order to contribute effectively, a strong and credible media contingent is required. This should be comprised of well informed journalists who are backed by supportive chief editors and matching editorial policies. In addition, strong partnerships need to be forged with both malaria and public health professionals. Whilst the media can play a vital role in reducing the malaria burden of Africa, it is but one of many players operating in a complex environment. If change is to take place to reduce the malaria burden in Africa, it will also involve effective political leadership, a vibrant civil society and a context where malaria is regarded as a political issue as well as a health one.
The work in this report and that found in the International Woman’s Media Foundation / Africa Woman’s Media Centre report, Deadline for Health (2004), provide us with the only insight into malaria reporting in African contexts. Both are baseline studies made prior to journalists training interventions and draw similar conclusions about the priority placed on HIV/AIDS reporting to the detriment of malaria coverage. This report goes beyond the work of the IWMF / AWMC to include the perspectives of malaria professionals and an examination of the rhetorical devices used in malaria reporting.
This report outlines the results of a survey of a sample of journalists, chief editors, managing directors of major media houses and experts involved in malaria control in Kenya and the Gambia in 2005. A qualitative study of six months of newspaper reporting in three main papers in Kenya was also undertaken and the results discussed in relation to the survey results.
The survey found that media professionals recognise malaria as an important health topic worthy of media attention. The majority of Gambian journalists, chief editors and MDs ranked malaria first followed by HIV/AIDS. In Kenya media personnel selected HIV/AIDS as the health issue that deserved most media coverage followed by malaria. Media people in both countries stated that HIV/AIDS dominates reporting and that malaria deserves more attention than it currently received. Issues such as maternal child health and TB received a relatively low rating in comparison.
There is strong media commitment to malaria reporting as shown by the survey, however stories and programmes on the subject are usually the product of a journalists own interest, rather than a concerted effort on the part of editors and reporters. Malaria stories compete for space and time with the other issues of the day. No media houses have designated health desks, specialised health reporters or supportive editorial policy. Documented evidence of editorial guidelines was found for only one media house in Kenya, although chief editors and MDs supported their development. There appears to be some gaps in media knowledge of malaria and marked lack of contact between journalists and malaria experts. Some journalists had received training in health however this was irregular and fragmented. Those surveyed called for ongoing and sustainable training.
The qualitative analysis of stories that mentioned malaria over six months in the three main Kenyan newspapers indicates a focus on the subject areas of ITNs, funding and anti-malarial drugs. There were some gaps in content from areas such as; the economic burden of malaria, malaria and pregnancy, epidemic preparedness and malaria and poverty. The majority of the items in the sample were news stories with a small number of features. There were very few science stories and no articles with an investigative approach. No items were regarded as high status enough for the front page and articles mainly appeared in the news or science, technology and current affairs sections. No articles appeared in sections such as education or finance and business. Those mainly quoted in the sample were NGO and MoH personnel. There was a dearth of community voices and the perspective of the NMCP was not represented. Most stories were framed in terms of ITN supply and demand, antimalarial shortages and there was a focus on donor funding projects. Malaria control was consistently described as a “war” or a “fight” that must be “won”. Attention was given to commercial opportunities with respect to ITNs and anti-malarial drugs.
Conclusions can be drawn from this baseline study that suggests a number of ways forward. Gaps in malaria knowledge, a lack of reporting on key content areas, a focus on news reporting and unbalanced framing indicate a need for on going training in order to improve malaria knowledge and professional skills. There are also opportunities to partner with Chief Editors in order to assist media houses to develop editorial guidelines that would include health as well as malaria. These guidelines will help to prioritise malaria reporting and to provide innovative, balanced, accurate and appropriate coverage.
Guidelines will assist journalists to develop stories that provide a range of perspectives on malaria. For managing directors, focusing on health may encourage budget allocations for health desks and designated health journalists. This baseline study also shows that there is a need for media and health professionals to develop stronger relationships in order to improve the accuracy and depth of stories whilst additionally ensuring a breadth of perspectives. Regular meetings and directories can facilitate this contact. Overall this study has found that there are many opportunities for action that go beyond training. If the quality and quantity of malaria coverage in the media is to be improved then a concerted effort is required from both media houses and malaria control organisations.”
These recommendations summarise possible strategies to improve media coverage of malaria stories and programmes.

* Stronger partnerships between mass media and malaria professionals are necessary. This can be achieved through improved contact which could be facilitated through regular structured meetings, comprehensive and regularly updated directories that include email addresses of malaria experts.

* The development of editorial guidelines which have a health component that includes malaria should be a priority for media houses. These need to focus on innovative, accurate, balanced and non discriminatory reporting.

* An ongoing programme of education and training is required to improve journalist’s knowledge as well as their professional skills.

* Internet based malaria resources and email contact is appropriate and should be harnessed for communication and networking with journalists. The use of ITC for training may also be effective.

* Associations and organisations for health journalism should be developed and strengthened in order to support partnership ventures and professional interests.

* Regular monitoring of health journalism in the media is required for evaluation and planning of public health initiatives.
Source: Soul Beat Africa - Communication Initiative Website, 01/08/2006

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