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[ICYMI] What Africa’s journalists should do differently in the next pandemic – Bhekisisa/Pulitzer Centre webinar

  • In collaboration with the Pulitzer Centre, Bhekisisa hosted a webinar for African journalists on 29 March focusing on the role the media can play to increase the uptake of life-saving medicines.
  • The conversation looked into what type of reporting works best to increase trust in evidence-based medicines — and what can be done to change harmful medicines.
  • Catch up on what you missed from the live stream below. Or, read our live coverage of the event at the bottom of this page.

When the next pandemic hits, journalists in Africa should make sure they carefully listen to the concerns of their consumers about life-saving medicines (such as vaccines) instead of making assumptions about what their concerns might be. 

This is according to health and science reporters from Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, who were speaking at Bhekisisa and the Pulitzer Centre’s webinar on 29 March.  

Angela Oketch, a senior health reporter and acting vaccines editor with The Daily Nation in Kenya, says she’s seen it work first-hand. In 2021, she wrote an article based on the questions people she interviewed had about getting vaccinated against COVID while pregnant. 

She consulted international health bodies such as the United States Centres for Disease Control, supplemented by local experts who could explain in a way Kenyans were familiar with, why the jab was safe to use during pregnancy.

After the piece was published, many pregnant women contacted Oketch with more questions. She used these queries to inform several follow-up pieces that explained why expecting mothers could trust that the jabs were safe. 

It paid off — a health department official in Kenya told Oketch that her work led to more pregnant women in Kenya getting the COVID vaccine. 

Ayoade Alakija, who is the co-chair of the African Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, told attendees that the press played a crucial role in shaping government policy — and saving lives — during the pandemic. 

She explained: “It’s time for journalists to recognise their own power.”

Other highlights from the webinar:

  • In Africa, the media missed an opportunity to explain to communities why there was such urgency around the COVID vaccine, but not around the measles jab or medicines that prevent malaria. People found the mismatch to be suspicious, according to Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman, a broadcast journalist with GHOne TV in Ghana. 
  • Karim Dini-Osman says the fact that people didn’t understand what risk the COVID virus posed to them, fuelled conspiracy theories, because there was a mismatch in communication about different medicines. 
  • African journalists need more training so that they’re better equipped to report on the tactics of the pharmaceutical industry, said Karim Dini-Osman. 
  • There weren’t enough journalists from Africa on the World Health Organisation’s daily media briefing Zoom call during the first two years of COVID-19, Alakija said.  
  • When Europe and the United States started to open up their economies after lockdown, African nations followed suit even though the continent was still mostly unvaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), Alakija said. She argued that the media had a responsibility to reflect the realities of their consumers, rather than  international trends. 
  • Investigative journalism is an important tool during a public health crisis such as the COVID pandemic, said Taiwo Adebulu, the features and investigations editor at Nigeria’s TheCable. People need easy-to-understand explanations of the science of how the virus works and how tests and medicines help. But they also need journalists to uncover fraud inside the government’s pandemic response, such as the theft of pandemic relief money.

Watch the full webinar:

Bhekisisa’s editor-in-chief, Mia Malan, moderated the panel. She was joined by the following speakers:

  • Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Union’s COVID-19 Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance
  • Angela Oketch, senior health reporter, The Daily Nation, Kenya
  • Taiwo Adebulu, features and investigations editor, TheCable, Nigeria
  • Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman, freelance journalist, Ghana
  • Susan Ferriss, senior editor, Pulitzer Centre