(This article from Front Page Africa describes Internews' health journalism project in Liberia.)
Monrovia – Journalists’ role in reporting about Liberia’s health issues began more critical when Ebola hit the country in 2014.
The lack of trained health reporters adversely impacted the spread of misinformation leading to a serious information crisis causing the virus to ravage the country.
Coming from a dreadful experience of the world’s deadliest EVD outbreak, stakeholders of Liberia’s health sector including international partners identified the significance of building the reporting skills of journalists in health reporting.
And for the first time in Liberia, 24 journalists from across Liberia have completed a six month health journalism fellowship under the ‘Information Saves Lives project organized by international NGO, InterNews with funding from USAID through Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3).
“We really believe that health reporting in Liberia can make a huge difference,” said Kate Thomas, Program Director of InterNews Information Saves Lives Project at the program closing ceremony.
Congratulating the fellows, Thomas hailed their commitment and passion during the training and said they have joined the health care delivery system of Liberia to help save lives.
“We started this program ‘Information Saves Lives’ because we know it’s true,” she said.
“We have seen really amazing achievement during the six months of this program…, most importantly, there’s a really growing passion for health journalism amongst all of you.”
HC3 deputy country director, Marietta Yekee expressed delight over the success of the fellowship and encouraged journalists to continue reporting health issues.
“I hope we could have money to be able to train more people (journalists),” Madam Yekee said.
For InterNews chief of party, Jan MacArthur, the work of the health journalists is “really, really significant”.
Madam MacArthur, who said she could not make promises, also mentioned that InterNews is trying to peruse more funds to continue the health journalism fellowship program continues.
“If we can get more funding, we will engage you and involve you,” she promised, and also encouraged the 24 trained Liberian health reporters to continue their health reporting.
“Health reporting shouldn’t stop because the Ebola crisis is over, and I know you will know that – but we also need to convince health agencies,” she said.
The outgoing President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Abdullai Kamara stressed the importance of journalists building their skills in the profession adding that, “Journalism is a life of learning”.
Motivating the 24 health reporters to continue covering health issues in the country, Kamara called on reporters avoid depending on grants in order to report health stories.
“You don’t necessarily need to have a grant [to do a story],” he said.
“Grants will help you to go to distances that your institutions may not ordinarily have…, and then you will have the news,” he said.
Kamara also encouraged health reporters just before their certification for participating in the fellowship program, to remain dedicated and committed to specialize reporting, adding that people are always watching the work of journalists.
Speaking on behalf of their colleagues, journalists Antoinette Sandolo of The Inquirer newspaper and Alpha Daffae Senkpeni of FrontPageAfrica lauded the InterNews’ staff for the mentoring and training.
“From this project, we have learned that if you are reporting on health issues is not about the figure, but it is about the people,” Sandolo said, adding that the training made a significant impact on her style of reporting.
“If we should continue working to save lives, because we are part of the health care system, we hope and pray that donors who funded this program that is concluding today consider extending this program,” added Senkpeni.
“Because I can tell you that many of us have over eight or nine years’ experience, but not in health reporting - if we should maintain that commitment, we need to move this program forward.”
He also called on his colleagues to continue the good work along with health workers in order to help save lives.
“We need to know that we are Liberians and we choose to be journalist and because we made a choice, it’s our responsibility to report health issues,” he said.
The closing and certification program of the heath journalism project was held on Friday, December 9 at the offices of Internes on 19th Street, Sinkor – Monrovia.