Media as a Medium: Engaging Journalists for Improved Health Coverage

Phase II of Media Workshop Series on Urban Health was conducted by Health Research and Social Development Forum (HERD) from March 8 to March 22, 2015 in 4 different urban locations (Nepalgunj, Dhangadhi, Hetauda and Bhedetar) of Nepal. These workshops were organised as part of an innovative project titled, “Strengthening Media’s Response to Urban Health Issues in Nepal” in collaboration with Primary Health Care Revitalisation Division (PHCRD) – a division under Department of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Population; and COMDIS-HSD (Communicable Diseases – Health Service Delivery) – a research consortium working in 7 countries and based in University of Leeds, UK. Phase I of the workshops were conducted during December, 2013 and January, 2014 in 3 urban locations (Kathmandu, Pokhara and Biratnagar). 

Phase II of the workshop series involved 66 journalists who were oriented on various conceptual issues of urban health, practical tips on health reporting and field visits to the urban slums to understand the real situation. The facilitation of the workshops was done by HERD team comprising of Executive Director (Dr. Sushil Baral – a noted public health expert with over 2 decades of experience in health policy and health system development), Media Adviser (Mr. Rajesh Ghimire – seasoned media expert with over 2 decades of experience in media and communications) and Research Uptake and Communications Officer (Mr. Sudeep Uprety – media researcher).

Dr. Sushil Baral discussing role of state in providing health services with the journalists

Highlights from the Workshop

Some of the highlights of the recent workshop series held with journalists are presented below:

Presentations on Better Packaging for Greater Impact: HERD team oriented the journalists about how better packaging could have a greater impact. Video presentations were made about better ways of story-telling to capture the attention of the audience. There was also a session on correct use of data and information to ensure that the information is not interpreted in a wrong fashion. Examples of Open Nepal’s initiative of collating different information into a common platform (website) and making them reader friendly were provided to the journalists as how efficient data management could be done.

Mr. Rajesh Ghimire demonstrates how simple images could have meaningful messages.

Perception versus Reality: An interesting session was conducted with the journalists where the journalists were asked to mention any significant health related incident that occurred in their lives (could be of their family members as well) in the last 5 years which had a significant impact on them. Then in another session, journalists were asked to mention the titles of the health related news/articles they had published. These two exercises were really helpful for HERD team to understand health issues considered ‘important’ by the journalists and the actual health problems faced by the general people from the public health lens as a discipline.

Patient-Journalist Interaction: An interaction session of tuberculosis patients and journalists was also held in one of the workshops where the patients expressed their difficulties of suffering from the disease and particularly problems they faced due to poor economic condition, not being able to afford to go for treatment early on and then diagnosis being very late when their conditions were already worse. The journalists covered their stories immediately post the workshops in their media outlets.

Field Visits to Slum Areas: In all four locations, field visits were arranged for the journalists in order to provide practical orientation to the journalists to observe any health situation, particularly those of unreached population from a public health perspective. HERD team led the field observations where the journalists were particularly encouraged to observe the situation from a ‘development’ angle – trying to understand the root causes behind the problem and identifying possible ways to address it rather than just documenting about the problem.

Journalists interacting with residents of a slum settlement in Hetauda

Social Determinants of Health: HERD team also encouraged the journalists to make reporting comprehensive – broadening the analysis by also taking into account social determinants that affect health behaviour such as poverty, lack of accessibility due to social inequality, pollution, among others. The orientation on social determinants was particularly important in the case of urban settlements where there are many factors affecting health such as unhealthy and tiring lifestyle degrading health conditions.

Interaction with Health Workers and Journalists: Interaction sessions were also held with health workers (Medical Officer from Seti Zonal Hospital and Senior Auxiliary Health Worker from District Hospital, Makwanpur) to reflect on major health problems faced by the urban population and how to address those issues with the support of the media

Medical Officer from Seti Zonal Hospital interacting with the journalists.

Engaging Policy Makers for Improving Media-Health Relationship:Policy makers responsible for devising urban health strategies and implementing them were extensively involved in the workshops with representation from key government officials (Chief of Policy Planning and International Cooperation Division and spokesperson for Ministry of Health and Population; Director of Primary Health Care Revitalization Division; and Regional Health Director of Far-Western Development Region) who presented their views on behalf of the ministry about the government’s vision of improving relations between the media and the health sector.

Dr. Padam Bahadur Chand emphasising on equity and access for quality in health services

Nepal Earthquake and the Way Ahead

Following the devastating damages caused by the earthquake, a lot of areas have been badly hit including health. Therefore, spreading awareness especially on epidemic outbreaks, hygiene and sanitation maintenance need to be prioritised. The media sector plays a major role communicating such messages. It is a good initiative by the Ministry of Health and Population on a rapid emergency health response.

Responding to this emergency situation, we will be engaged more with the journalists to document stories public health conditions in the earthquake affected districts through our 3 key approaches:

  • EVIDENCE GENERATION – assessing the knowledge, health needs and factors affecting the health conditions of the earthquake affected
  • UNDERSTANDING POLICY – documenting the bottlenecks and possible way forward to address those bottlenecks
  • AGENDA SETTING – generating stories about the current practices of health services availability, accessibility and quality

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