Consortium for the Advancement of Rights for Key Affected Population (CARKAP) has yesterday (Tuesday 21st May) held a round table discussion with the media on how to report health issues in the country.
The engagement took place at the Grassroots Gender Empowerment Movement hall, John Street in Freetown.
Chairperson of CARKAP, Marie Benjamin, said the organization was founded four years ago with the aim to advocating for the lives of key affected people with sexual transmitted diseases, stating that the essence of the meeting was to discuss with the media on how to report health issues like HIV&AIDS, TB and Malaria.
She added that their vision was envisaging a Sierra Leone where key affected populations access quality health services in an enabling environment.
She said their mission was to improve the health, social, economic and human conditions of the neediest communities affected by the three diseases through community engagement.
She said their strategic plan was focused on advocating social accountability, social mobilization, building community linkages, communication collaboration and coordination.
She further that HIV and AIDS pandemic was currently the most important health, social, economic, and religious challenge facing countries worldwide, adding that the impact of HIV and AIDS pandemic was alarming due to the number of deaths and the extent of human suffering of those infected or affected by the disease.
She said over 33 million people worldwide, both adults and children were estimated to be living with AIDS, stating that the pandemic poses a threat to social and economic development in many countries.
She said the media should not discriminate people affected by those diseases through the way they report on their matters.
Programme Manager of CARKAP, Harry Ben Alpha said according to a report by Panos on Africa, tuberculosis (TB), particularly the science of HIV and TB co-infection, was highly neglected in terms of media coverage in Africa.
He said with the collaboration of other development partners, a rapid review was conducted on media coverage of HIV and AIDS/TB co-infections in Africa with the objective of identifying challenges and opportunities in improving reporting on those issues.
He noted that the report states that public awareness and clear understanding of those diseases were crucial to minimizing the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS and TB co-infections.
He said the media is a strategic resource in shaping and influencing public attitudes, adding that the study found out that there was an urgent need for a well-informed, reliable, and vigilant media to enhance the flow of HIV and AIDS, TB information to African audiences.
He further that the media coverage of HIV and AIDS and TB issues was not sufficiently consistent and based on well-planned activities of the newsrooms, stating that the coverage was highly event-driven and did not reflect a genuine interest on the part of the media houses to report on the issues with analytical depth.
The Programme Manager continued that the media fall short of providing human interest stories, which show the consequences of the epidemics on individuals and families, with little emphasis given to the placement of HIV and AIDS and TB issues.
He said in 2013, over 200 to 40,000 people-sexual workers were affected by sexual transmitted diseases and over 20,000 men having sex with men injected themselves with drugs.
He said after every disaster, there was increase in sexual workers because they have to take care of their families.
He observed that if anyone got affected with HIV and AIDS and TB, they can be prevented only if they take their medication correctly.
He noted that Journalists face institutional, professional, and cultural and leadership challenges in covering HIV and AIDS and TB issues, adding that it was crucial for media houses to incorporate HIV and AIDS and TB co-infection coverage in their editorial policies.
"There is a need to sensitize media managers and owners on the need to establish health desks or beats within their newsrooms and regular health columns in their publications. Newspapers need institutional support as well as practical resources to serve the needs of their audiences in covering HIV and AIDS and TB co-infections .The quality of coverage can be improved by enhancing the technical training of journalists," he said.
He concluded that the introduction of media forums, competitions, awards, and sponsorships would be effective ways to encourage journalists and media houses to produce quality reporting on health issues.