West African journalists equipped to champion fight against Covid-19

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By Omar Bah, just back from Benin

A group of West African health journalists has received three days intensive training on strategies to fight infodemic and proper use of health data to champion the fight against Covid-19.

The training organised by the Africa CDC and hosted in Cotonou, Benin, brought together 16 health reporters and editors from The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Benin, Liberia, Togo and Senegal.

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During the three days intensive training, the journalists were introduced to information and tools to be able to contribute to greater public awareness of COVID-19 vaccination and how to counter misinformation based on scientific evidence.

The global COVID-19 immunization effort has generated a proliferation of false information on the internet and social media aimed at creating fear, and hesitancy in vaccine uptake and down the efforts of the response.

However, Liliane Bilogho Ndong Nang, the Advocacy and Communication Officer, Africa CDC reminded the journalists of the important role they play in helping shape perceptions, attitudes, values, and behaviours in society.

“It is, therefore, important to strengthen your capacity and knowledge in COVID-19 vaccination and give you the tools to communicate better for the community,” she commented.

Accurate media coverage based on facts and scientific evidence, she added, “is important for changing communities’ behaviours”.

“Your role has never been more important,” Mrs Liliane said.

According to the Africa CDC, vaccination against COVID-19 remains a key priority for Africa as the continent strives to reach the global target of 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of this year.  However, only three African countries have reached the 70% immunization while 21 countries immunized more than 40% of their population. This means that overall, less than 22 percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

According to Liliane, this, among other things, prompted the Africa CDC to organize training for health journalists to improve their knowledge and expertise to cover such complex issues.

The lead facilitator, Verah Okeyo challenged countries to regularly share their Covid-19 data with the Africa CDC to equip stakeholders with the required information that would help in the formulation of informed policies in the fight against the pandemic. The experienced Kenyan born trainer also urged journalists to report beyond press conferences and press releases. “As health reporters, you are required to dig deep into your country’s health systems to be able to identify the opportunities and challenges to help your governments make informed decisions,” she said. 

Albert Muya Dibaya, one of the lead facilitators said journalists should be committed to seek the truth at all times and report the facts especially during crises such as pandemics.

“If people don’t have the right information about the covid-19 pandemic they could take medicines that would put their lives in danger. So, it is very important to deconstruct disinformation and give the right information at the right time to help people make the right decisions,” Mr Dibaya said.

Verah said the media is “a key tool in as far as risk communication and community engagement are concerned”.

Therefore, Verah added, “In situation of pandemic like the COVID-19, journalists have to be provided with a holistic understanding in order for them to inform and educate their respective audiences”.

Latest covid cases in Africa

According to the Africa CDC, as of 9 October 2022, a total of 12,079,592 COVID-19 cases and 255,843 deaths have been reported by the 55 African countries representing 2% of all cases and 4% of all deaths reported globally.