In the first week of September, specifically from 1 to 4 September, I was away at the School of Media & Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Ibeju-Lekki, attending classes on health journalism as one of the 15 health journalists for the maiden Health Journalists Academy sponsored by Roche.
Seasoned and articulate tutors among whom were Prof. Emevwo Biakolo, Dr Ikechukwu Obiaya, Dr Josef Bel-Molokwu, Dr Isah Momoh and Mr Ikeddy Isiguzo, painstakingly made thought-provoking presentations and engaged the journalists drawn from the print, broadcast and new media, on fundamental issues affecting the journalism profession.
There were presentations on ethics of journalism, critical thinking for writing, structure and context/purpose of news reporting, the writing process in reporting as well as health beat reporting.
I have been practising as a journalist for over 15 years and most of the general ideas in the lectures were neither new nor strange to me. However I found the interactive session and discussions on the presentations quite useful and interesting. While there were consensus on some issues, the class was divided on others.
The interactive sessions further reiterated the journalism principle that, for every story, there are more than two sides. It thus becomes imperative for journalists and health journalists in particular, to ensure they cover all sides of the story.
Aside from the discussion and presentations on the journalism profession, there were also some informative and educative presentations on the health sector. There was a presentation by Dr Ngozi Azodoh, director of planning, Federal Ministry of Health, on the health care system in Nigeria, which amply elucidated the role the ministry is playing as well as its challenges.
There were also presentations on health insurance governance in Nigeria and the role of NGOs in enhancing access to health care.
I must also state that I was quite impressed with the presentations on disease conditions – hepatitis and cancer – by Dr Charles Onyekwere of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) and Dr Bukola Salako of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), respectively.
The presentation of Dr Salako, an oncologist, on the cancer burden in Nigeria, with special focus on breast cancer, was particularly educative; and her submission that health journalists in Nigeria have a huge responsibility in educating Nigerians on how to tame this deadly condition is indeed apt.
Journalists in Nigeria and health journalists in particular, must commence a journalistic crusade against cancer and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that are killing Nigerians in their thousands, especially as these conditions are preventable and manageable, if detected early.
There has been so much media focus on infectious diseases while Nigerians continue to die needlessly from NCDs. Except something is done urgently to tackle these conditions, things might get very bad in years to come.
I must commend Roche for this Health Journalists Academy initiative. I have worked as a health journalist for virtually all my years in journalism and the Roche-sponsored programme was the first time I’ve had an opportunity of a refresher course.
This Roche’s initiative is a good example of corporate social responsibility (CSR) worth recommending to other companies. While there are aspects of the Health Journalists Academy initiative that need improvements and enrichment to make the programme more rewarding for participating journalists, the initiative surely deserves a huge commendation.