From 3 May – 8 June 2021, the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) – in partnership with The Global Fund – held an online training for a select group of journalists in Africa. The course focused on building expertise in reporting on human-rights related barriers to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria services in Africa – such as stigma and discrimination, as well as laws and policies that prevent marginalised groups from accessing healthcare – in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This programme for journalists ran in parallel with a communications course for civil society organisations based in Africa. In the final week of the training, the two groups were brought together online to strengthen the relationship between media and civil society representatives. Below is a reflection from one of the participants following their completion of the programme:
By Stephen Otieno Oketch - Journalist at The Nation Media Group, Kenya
I came across the TRF and The Global Fund training at a time when health reporting in my country, Kenya, was greatly focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, there was nearly zero coverage on the other epidemics affecting the Kenyan people, be it HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria - the latter of which is perennial in the tropical climate zone. However, this lack of coverage did not mean that their impact on citizens was in any way reduced.
Occasionally there were saddening reports aired on mainstream media regarding the neglect of people living with HIV (PLHIV). The matter was a serious one, as they had no access to antiretrovirals (ARVs). Being a reporter focused on human-interest stories, I felt there was something more to be covered but I did not know exactly what was missing.
Two weeks into the training, my eyes were opened to the multiple angles through which the story could be narrated, packaged and published. The programme focused on how PLHIV, as well as those infected with malaria or tuberculosis, face barriers to accessing health services. We also learnt about covering stigma and discrimination against marginalised groups – issues that are still rife, despite efforts from the state and NGOs to combat them through civic education.
The training also helped me to analyse my country’s constitution on rights related to health, such as the right to good health, the right to life – and a dignified one at that – and the right to access information. Previously, I had thought that the provision of health facilities was enough but the training enlightened me to the well-established programmes, implemented by functional states, for vulnerable groups. For instance, I learnt that my country has a ‘Differentiated Service Delivery’ programme for PLHIV, which includes the delivery of ARVs and tests to establish viral loads of infected persons.
The past 15 months in Kenya have been a stressful period; mental health issues are on the rise, and to make matters worse, the entire health sector went on strike. In addition to the anxiety caused by COVID-19, the lack of medical professionals and overflowing hospital wards were enough to destabilise any sick person – let alone someone living with HIV or suffering from acute malaria or tuberculosis.
With proper grounding and context drilled into our minds, the programme went on to equip us with the skills needed to find sources for our stories, and how to ensure that we interact sensitively with patients and protect their right to privacy. One witty trainer, Verah Okeyo, also sharpened my pitching skills and I can now come up with catchy pitches for solution-based stories with confidence.
Cognizant of the dramatic changes currently being experienced within the media industry, the instructors introduced mobile journalism to us and took us through a series of practical sessions where we came up with content ideas, went through the editing process and then shared them with the class. That was exciting and fun, whilst also equipping us with the much-needed skills needed to navigate the rapidly changing newsroom.
The six-week programme was fast-paced, heavily loaded and full of content. At some points, it was almost overwhelming. However, it was the positive kind of stress, expertly engineered by our trainer Rex Merrifield, whose drive for development and improvement in his students is unparalleled. Kudos to Rex for that! It was much needed.
I finished the training as a more skilled journalist, with abilities I did not previously hold and with insights far richer. I also have a greater understanding of the health sector and the challenges encountered by both the patients and the caregivers. My expectations of the training were surpassed, and I am very grateful to TRF, The Global Fund, the trainers and my fellow trainees for making the experience so worthwhile.
I will definitely use my new skills to enrich the practice of journalism and bring to light issues that are often overlooked through impactful stories – stories that have the potential to transform society.