Journalists reporting health in Nigeria need to significantly improve their skills set so that they can present their reports in a way the public can easily understand, players in the sector have advised.
They gave the advice on Tuesday in Abuja at an event held to celebrate the efforts of some outgoing lawmakers in driving progress in the health sector.
Themed, “The 8th Assembly and Nigeria’s Health Sector: Reviewing Progress, Looking Forward”, the event was organised by the Legislative Network for Universal Health Coverage in partnership with other organisations working on health.
The stakeholders said lack of understanding of health-related issues had negatively affected health information disseminated to the public.
Martins Ifijeh, the health correspondent for THISDAY newspaper, said he was worried by the poor knowledge and understanding of critical issues and development in the sector among journalist.
He said there is a knowledge and communication gap between journalists and critical stakeholders in the health sector.
During a technical session shortly before the main event, the journalist was asked to explain the challenges in reporting health issues in Nigeria.
Not carried Along
Mr Ifijeh said journalists are not engaged properly on health-related issues. “We are mostly called to report from the point of implementation.”
Veteran journalist and broadcaster with the Nigerian Television Authority, Moji Makanjuola, advised journalists covering health to assert themselves on the beat.
“You need to read thoroughly, engage and network with health experts. You also have to find a way to make your story as simple as possible for public consumption”, said Mrs Makanjuola.
She said health reporters have to find a way to connect with their readers and viewers by humanising stories even when they are scientific and data-driven.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified the media as a major player in the quest for Universal Health Coverage.
With that potential, it is important for reporters to have background knowledge of medical science – its languages, topics and processes – so as to prevent being misled by unfamiliar claims and assertions, experts said.
According to an essay published by The Conversation, individual anecdotes such as inserting a personal account of patients, victims and others are tools journalists can use to promote audience understanding of complex health issues.
Some medical experts who spoke during Tuesday’s session agreed that reporters should be engaged and trained often on health-related issues.
Oladapo Ladipo of the Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH) said organisations, policymakers and government agencies in the health sector should not engage the press only when they want to issue press releases.
“The press should also be engaged on how to report health at least three times in a year”, said Mr Ladipo, a professor.
To wrap up the session, Olanrewaju Tejuoso, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, stressed the importance of the media in the progress of the health sector.
Mr Tejuoso said health reporters also should personally develop their skills and knowledge.