(SLENA, 21st May, 2019): Consortium for the Advancement of Rights for Key Affected Population (CARKAP) has held a round table discussion with media practitioners on how to report on health issues in Sierra Leone. The press conference took place at Grassroots Gender Empowerment Movement Hall at John Street in Freetown.
Speaking during the press conference, the Chairperson of CARKAP, Madam Marie Benjamin said that CARKAP’s purpose of the engagement was to discuss on how to report health issues that has to do with discrimination like HIV&AIDS and TB.
She informed that CARKAP was founded four years ago with the aim of advocating for the lives of key affected people with sexually transmitted diseases, Tuberculosis , Malaria and HIV&AIDS and the vision is to see that Sierra Leoneans including key affected population access quality health services in an enabling environment, saying that their mission is to improve the health, social, economic and human conditions of the neediest communities affected by the diseases through community engagement and their strategic plans were advocacy for social accountability, social mobilization, building community linkages, communication, collaboration and coordination.
She pointed out that HIV and AIDS is currently the most important health, social, economic and religious challenge facing countries around the world and the impact of the HIV and AIDS is alarming due to the number of deaths and the extent of human suffering from it.
“Over 33 million people worldwide, (both children and adults) are estimated to be living with HIV& AIDS and that poses a threat to developing countries socially and economically, and that the media should not discriminate people affected by those diseases through their reportage,” she said.
The Program Manager of CARKAP, Harry Ben Alpha said that over 20,000 men are having same sex intercourse in the country and in 2013 over 200 to 40,000 sexual workers were affected by sexually transmitted diseases and some did inject themselves with drugs.
He said that according to the latest report by Panos on Africa states, it reveals that tuberculosis (TB), particularly the science of HIV and TB co-infection, is highly neglected in terms of media coverage in Africa.
He noted that the report states that public awareness and clear understanding of these diseases are crucial in minimizing the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS and TB co-infections.
He advised that the media is strategic in determining and influencing the people’s perception of living with such diseases and during the engagement, recommendations were made that there was an urgent need for a well-informed, trustworthy and cautious media to report.
He said with the collaboration of other development partners, rapid review was conducted on media coverage of HIV and AIDS, TB co-infections in Africa with the objective of identifying challenges and opportunities in improving reporting on these issues.
He emphasized that the media coverage on HIV and AIDS and TB issues are not consistent, noting that coverage is highly event-driven and does not reflect a genuine interest on the part of the media houses to report on the issues with analytical depth.
Program Manager said it falls short of providing human interest stories which show the consequences of the epidemics on individuals and families and little emphasis were given to the placement of HIV and AIDS and TB issues.
He said after every disaster, there are increases in sexual workers because they have to take care of their families and if any gets affected with HIV and AIDS and TB they can only be prevented when they take their medications correctly.
He noted that journalists face institutional, professional and cultural and leadership challenges in covering HIV and AIDS and TB issues.
He informed that it is crucial for media houses to incorporate HIV and AIDS and TB co-infection coverage in their editorial policies.
“There is the need to sensitize media managers and owners on the need to established health desks or beats within their newsrooms and regular health columns in their publications. Newspapers need institutional support as well as practical resources to serve the needs of their audience in covering HIV and AIDS and TB co-infections , the quality of coverage can be improved on by enhancing the technical training of journalists,” he said.