A medical scientist at the NICD prepares listeria samples for DNA sampling.
A medical scientist at the NICD prepares listeria samples for DNA sampling.

Life, death, politics and protest — healthcare in South Africa saw what was arguably its most volatile year in more than a decade in 2018.

Since Bhekisisa started five years ago, we’ve broken news — and then broken down the science behind it. From the Cape to Cairo, our reporters didn’t just tell you about problems this year, but they uncovered — and evaluated — solutions too.

“Journalists who add a solutions-oriented lens to their reporting aren’t only watchdogs, but also ‘guide dogs’”, our friends at the Solutions Journalism Network recently summed up in this great post.

“Providing rigorous coverage and evaluation of responses — how they played out, what the impact was (or wasn’t) — gives audiences ideas, even working playbooks, to make their communities better.”

We also brought you the story behind national headlines — such as the Life Esidimeni tragedy and the listeriosis outbreak. 

And we did more than our fair share of fact-checking.

Take a look back at the year that was. If you enjoy these stories and want more solutions-focused journalism in your newsfeed,  please consider supporting our work with a donation between now and the end of February 2019.

1. Connecting the dots, creating a record 

Bhekisisa live-tweeted almost every day of the more than 40-day arbitration into the Life Esidimeni tragedy. 

We also published regular stories that helped readers make sense of testimonies as our reporters put years of covering the doomed move of almost 1 700 Gauteng mental health patients out of state-funded private care and into deadly community and state facilities.  Take a look at our special report.

But we didn’t stop there. Our team summarised and uploaded more than 8 000 pages of transcripts from the arbitration to create this public resource to help ensure that the memory of the more than 140 people who died as a result of the moves lived on.  Access the archive here.

2. Show us the data

In an era of fake news, we checked out the facts behind the soundbites — or the ad campaigns, or tweets and even the fake HIV cures. (Which all led to some pretty astounding conversations with puzzled and panicked communications people. Come to one of our events next year, and we just might tell you.  Not on our mailing list? Sign up here).

And no one was safe, least of all Big Tobacco when we questioned the methodology behind the latest industry-funded campaign and the use of paid Twitter.

But we also had a lot of help from, well, you. 

You questioned everything from Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s claims about the foreign strain on healthcare…

To the latest sham of a fake HIV cure.

BONUS: Interested in writing an opinion piece that will get read but don’t know how to get started? Bhekisisa regularly provides editorial support to budding writers.  Find out how.

3. Behind the headlines

This year, we broke the news of widespread stock-outs in the North West, but things escalated quickly as calls for former premier Supra Mahumapelo to resign amid allegations of corruption. Then we made sense of the mess — and what it said about life, death and politics in South Africa’s young democracy.

And when our favourite deli meat turned deadly, our reporters put a face to the victims — and the heroes — of the country’s listeriosis outbreak.

4. And into the shadows

From the streets of Tshwane and the alleys of Cairo to the brothels of Amsterdam we looked at some evidence-based solutions for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations like people who use drugssex workers and young women including this dramatic video documenting the life-changing experience of methadone for one heroin user.

5. We asked the questions on everyone’s mind (secretly)…

… like how menstrual cups work,

… or if you should really be cleaning your vagina.

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Laura Lopez Gonzalez is a freelance health journalist and editor. She was Bhekisisa's news editor then deputy editor between 2016 and 2020. Follow her on Twitter @LLopezGonzalez