Journalists can have a significant influence in the functioning of health systems. In the African context of policy making for health, journalists contribute to setting the agenda for the press, the public, and policymakers through highlighting important issues that, for example, need improvement or are in other ways newsworthy. Through shaping public opinion, which in turn exerts pressure on policymakers to respond, media play a big role in holding policymakers accountable for the quality of the health system.
The mass media are generally not always interested nor trained to report on news relating to health research. Reporting on health-related issues in the media is often considered ‘shallow and reactive, dominated by announcements of new drugs or official health promotion campaigns, and lacking in investigative depth’. The media in sub-Saharan Africa often lack interest, skills and capacity to access and report on research findings on health, including sexual en reproductive health and rights. At the same time, health research often lacks presentation in a way that captures media interest, and health researchers tend to shy away from media fearing misrepresentation of their work.
Africa Media Network for Health
In order to strengthen the important role of the media, Amref Health Africa launched the Africa Media Network for Health (AMNH) under the Health Systems Advocacy (HSA) Partnership (also consisting of ACHEST, HAI, Wemos and financed by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs. AMNH is a network of highly acclaimed journalists and editors from Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda. They frequently report on issues relating to health systems strengthening in their respective countries in regional news outlets and at the regional level. The network aims to increase citizens’ understanding of health issues in Africa by improving the quality and frequency of media reporting on health issues.
More than 300 journalists
The network wants to increase the coverage of health issues in the media in Africa, enhance interest of media in health matters and enhance the capacity of African journalists to report on health through workshops, mentorship, networking, information sharing, and institutional development. Since its launch in 2016, more than 300 journalists have joined the platform and news outlets have published more than 250 written articles and other items.
Recently, Amref hosted two podcast discussions with journalists from Kenya and Malawi who are all members of the AMNH. In these podcasts, the journalists present their latest publications and explain the local impact of their stories. They also reflect on the added value of working in a media network and the changes they see in relation to the increased prioritization of health issues in media houses. Doreen Sonani from Malawi:“The network has been so helpful to my work, because it functions as a platform where we as journalists within Malawi and other countries involved can share information, experiences, best practices and we strengthen our network.”