The media in Kenya in general and journalists, in particular, have done well in focusing on the current health challenges facing the country, especially the coronavirus outbreak. While the outbreak presented unique challenges to journalists, and in some cases, faults have been made, media houses have spared enough space and airtime to bring expert information on the disease, and what can be done to minimize its adverse effects.
George Ogola in his article in the Conversation entitled “Why African Journalists aren’t doing a good job on COVID-19”, blames the media for only reproducing international media narratives on the outbreak. He mentions that the media is just reproducing World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines without auditing them or their applicability in Africa, singling the social distance and self-isolation concept. While the media in Africa might not be perfect, so far journalists have done the best in the circumstances.
I belong to several media groups, including the African Editors Forum, East African Community Media Network, International Training Program for Africa media players and other several Kenyan media groups, which have exposed me to several editorial content and discussions from the continent. Since the outbreak of the virus, journalists in Africa have fully dedicated space and airtime to the pandemic. They have shown and given data on how the disease cases in Africa are largely from the USA and Europe and not China, which has shaped policy including seeing African countries halting flights to these destinations. Quarantine for people traveling from these identified epicenters have been declared. Not sure it was the international press narrative only, but deliberate focus by African journalists to focus and show these trends.
We have evidence and content from print and online publications, while broad clips are available to show African journalists hosting experts from Africa extensively discussing the pandemic. They were not recorded or paid for content from international press. In fact a number of international press are now filled with African journalists and editors, who shape their editorial content. A number of articles and programmes on international channels including VOA, BBC and others had their productions on COVID-19 done by African journalists.
The issue of social distance is not new to Africa, or unworkable in Africa, even with our slums. I remember while I was doing a program on Bulala FM, a community radio station in Budalangi Sub-County, and a caller asked what a family with 12 children and one house should do to keep social distance. After explaining how the virus spreads and is contracted, and how one can minimize such through personal hygiene, and how they had behaved during Cholera outbreaks in the area, which is common during floods, or how they kept away from those suffering from leprosy or smallpox by avoiding physical contacts or even buried some of the dead at night without crowds, the concept was understood. A caller operating a posho mill and a supervisor in Magombe Rice scheme and others seemed to understand the concept and requested to be assisted to get personal protection equipment, to remain protected even as they worked in their vulnerable environments. People are able to balance their cultures with demand for health and living even in Africa.
Within the several media groups, colleagues are discussing and exchanging information on country approaches to the pandemic and churning out articles and broadcasts, borrowing from working interventions from other countries and putting their governments to task or pushing policy adoption on working interventions. Media has pointed out failures in interventions by governments or other players.
The media in Kenya for example has used the current health challenges including dealing with emergencies to bring to fore the need for a national debate on the status of the health infrastructure in Kenya. Media has called for an audit of the response to coronavirus and the manner of reaction by Kenyans, the casual manner in which some citizens are taking instructions to the government and the preparations exhibited by the counties in handling the emergency, saying it requires review by experts in the sector.
I have read stories citing Kenya’s commitment to Vision 2030, that prioritizes health as a major contributor to national development. In the Social Pillar of the Vision 2030, the Government aims to provide an efficient and high-quality health care system with the best standards., which was to be done through a two-pronged approach: (i) devolution of funds and management of health care to the communities and district medical officers;
The Government says it will continue to shift focus from curative to preventive care, help to expand immunization coverage, improve reproductive health needs and allocate additional resources to facilitate an effective multi-sectoral response to epidemics.
Under the devolved system, the Government will aim to provide health services through a robust infrastructure network as well as expand medical insurance coverage to increase access to health services. Flagship project to singled out include; revitalise community health centres to promote preventive health care (as opposed to curative intervention), de-link the Ministry of Health from service delivery in order to improve management of the country’s health institutions primarily by devolution of health management to communities and healthcare experts at county and national hospitals. Additionally is to create a National Health Insurance Scheme in order to promote equity in Kenya’s health care financing, and scaling up the output-based approach system to enable disadvantaged groups to access health care from preferred health facilities.
From the response to the corona pandemic, are our policies working or not and do they meet international standards set by such bodies like WHO, the media has asked and where are the gaps. The media has raised the issue of the Abuja declaration requirement that Governments raise their health budgets to 15% of their total budgets to ensure that the health infrastructure in the country can deal with quality services including retaining health professionals in the public sector. The media has even including using local experts and African students in China and elsewhere given the African narrative to the disease, some print publications are even selling their products at discounted rates to ensure more members of the public get access to information, while a number of broadcasters have initiated special progammes to allow more people access content on the pandemic. A number of them have developed special editorial and safety guidelines on dealing with the coverage of the pandemic and ensuring safety of their journalists.
Although they have not reached the optimum, a lot is happening in the newsrooms in Africa. Challenges including dealing with misinformation, controlled Government information flow, lack of specialization in newsrooms, difficulties in accessing expert sources, resources to gather content by some media houses are still prevalent but guys are working.
Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Head of Media Development and Strategy