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WHO urges journalists on safety while reporting public health emergencies

By Lillian Namusoke Magezi

Added 10th May 2018 03:12 PM

While medical workers who deal with emergenciesare always trained to protect themselves, journalists who relay information to the public, are usually not.

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While medical workers who deal with emergenciesare always trained to protect themselves, journalists who relay information to the public, are usually not.

PIC: Health officials clad in protective gear getting ready to visit ebola wards. Journalists have ben urged to mind their safety while reporting outbreaks of infectious diseases
CAUTION- Journalists reporting on public health emergencies have been urged to take all the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and prevent onset of diseases while in the field. The call was made by Dr. Freddy Banza-Mutoka, an epidemiologist at the WHO regional office.  

He said while medical workers who deal with emergencies, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases, are always trained on why and how they should protect themselves, journalists who play a critical role in relaying information to the public are usually not.

Therefore, Banza-Mutoka added that journalists end up making mistakes that could cost them their lives. He noted that he has seen unfortunate incidents where journalists sit on patients’ beds as they carry out interviews, in addition to touching them (without wearing gloves) as they fix microphones on them during interviews or while positioning them to take pictures. 

He made the remarks while addressing journalists during a regional media workshop codenamed “Reporting on Public Health Emergencies” that was held by WHO in Nairobi last week. The workshop was aimed at equipping journalists from Africa with knowledge and skills so as to improve the reporting of public health emergencies.

It was attended by journalists from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. There were also journalists from Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

Public health emergencies 

A public health emergency can be defined as an unexpected event that has an impact on the lives of people, explained Dr. James Kojo Teprey, who works with the WHO regional office. 

In addition, Dr. Ngoy Nsenga, the WHO regional adviser for risk management and preparedness, explained that the African region is grappling with several forms of emergencies, for example outbreaks of infectious diseases such as Ebola, Marburg and cholera; natural disasters such as landslides, drought and floods; and manmade disasters such conflict which can lead to displacement of people.

Uganda has not been spared and there have several outbreaks of cholera, Ebola and Marburg in the past few years in addition to landslides that have been reported in districts in eastern Uganda such as Sironko and Bududa. The country is hosting over one million refuges mainly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Somalia. 

Journalists play critical role during emergencies

The role of journalists during emergencies cannot be underestimated and, therefore, they were advised to report correctly and effectively. Dr. Jemimah Mwakisha, a communications and social mobilization officer with WHO, noted that journalists play a role in changing people’s behavior by providing information to influence decision-making.

As they report on emergencies, journalists were reminded that they have a role to protect themselves, their communities and encourage individuals to protect themselves. 

Staying health while reporting emergencies

Just like medical workers protect themselves while dealing with public health emergencies, journalists were urged to protect themselves by for example wearing gloves and gowns when in an area with a cholera outbreak; a face shield when reporting on conditions that are transmitted through droplets such as whooping cough, meningitis and influenza. One should also wear a mask when there is a risk of contracting airborne diseases such as TB, measles and chickenpox.

When it comes to viral haemorrhagic fevers, journalists were advised not to touch anyone and have their bodies fully covered. In addition, they should avoid getting into contact with patient-care equipment, body fluids and linen. Journalists were also advised to avoid getting too close to patients as much as possible, for example, it was noted that in most cases photographers can avoid getting close to patients but still take good pictures.

Other tips

Apply repellents to exposed skin

Wear appropriate clothes for the climate 

Prevent food and water-borne diseases by not eating food in the field or drinking water that is not bottled.

After leaving the field, journalists were urged to ensure proper hand hygiene and washing their hands properly with soap in addition to using sanitiser, decontaminate broadcast equipment and kit thoroughly with antimicrobial wipes. In addition, they were advised to monitor their health and immediately report anything suspicious.

Before setting off for the field, journalists were advised to ensure that they are in good health. Banza-Mutoka noted that this can be done through:

Doing regular medical check-ups such as seeing a dentist and an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) at least once a year. Females should consult a gynaecologist at least once a year

Have the necessary vaccinations to get adequate protection against diseases such those for: Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, polio, yellow fever, Heapatitis A and B in addition to meningitis. Other conditions to be vaccinated against are typhoid, seasonal influenza, rabies, measles and cholera.

Those who wear spectacles or contact lenses should travel with a spare pair and a copy of the prescription

Know your blood group and having a card to that effect to present to medical workers in case of an emergency

Other ways of maintaining good health include doing daily physical exercises, having a balanced diet, drinking enough water and ensuring enough sleep.

Journalists were also urged to take the initiative to get useful training on first aid, stress management and psychological first aid.

Journalistic skills for reporting emergencies

Prue Clarke, a media development specialist urged journalists to prepare well for their assignments and do enough research about the conditions before setting off to the field in order to report accurately. Clarke also advised them to find the right sources, explaining that in addition to official sources, journalists need to tell the stories of members of the affected communities in addition to sharing solutions. While telling people’s stories, Clarke urged journalists to maintain the dignity of any patients or communities included in a story. Thios could be done by hiding their identity so as to protect them from stigma.

In addition, Mwakisha said noted that accurate reporting by the journalists would help to manage rumours, demystify myths and do away with conspiracy theories.



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