A case for medical journalism
By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta
The practice of journalism has deep and firm roots in Nigeria: it is like a big tree with many branches.
Some of the branches focused on sports, politics, finance and the economy, aviation, energy, entertainment, education, agriculture, maritime services and even journalism itself.
However, there is no branch of journalism that is focused on reporting the medical and healthcare sector. This implies that there are no journalism practitioners who principally specialised in covering the health sector at all levels – primary, secondary, tertiary, research and the pharmaceutical industry.
This was probably one of the reasons that the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic by the mass media in the country was inadequate and bereft of original and helpful items based on findings by Nigerian journalists.
Then the media largely depended on stuff echoed by the Centre for Disease Control, which in turn relied on what was transmitted to it by leaders of foreign bodies, private foundations and pharmaceutical companies that made fortunes out of the skillfully engineered frenzy and public fear as the COVID-19 spread.
This item urges colleagues interested in giving coverage to health matters to consider coming together to address the urgent need for specialisation in medical journalism.
What health journalists should focus on is spreading health information and medical issues that are prevalent in our country and how citizens can avai themselves of healtcare services.
Medical journalism practitioners would be positioned to justifiably advocate an end to massive and costly overseas medical tourism by Nigerians. This can be achieved by highlighting the advances made by Nigeria in upgrading our teaching hospitals and other public and private health facilities with state of the art equipment.
For instance, the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Kano, one of the 26 in Nigeria, has some of the best facilities including the well-equipped NKDC Diagnostic Centre established by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). A similar Centre is located in Umuahia, Abia state. The NSIA LUTH Cancer Centre in Lagos is world class standard.
One of the best equipped Occupational Therapy and Neuromodulation Rehabilitation Centres in Nigeria is located at the AKTH. The Hospital contributes in making it cheaper, easier and faster to treat patients in need of rehabilitation therapy and neuromodulation care in Nigeria.
The Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital has 24 Specialty Clinics and more than 200 Consultants and Professors. AKTH pioneered kidney transplanting in public hospitals. There are sophisticated Cardiothoracic Machines for the treatment of heart complications in the Hospital. Heart complications and kidney diseases are the top health conditions that force Nigerians to travel abroad for medical care.
However, it is ironic that malaria, the major health issue that kills thousands of Nigerians annually has not been made a topic for major discourse in the media by Nigerian journalists.
No medium or journalist tracks and gives update on the activities of the 16-member Nigeria End-Malaria Council (NEMC) led by the industrialist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. Former President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated it in August 2022.
The media in Nigeria should recall that a Presidential Committee was established by the Federal Government in 2005 to produce anti-malarial Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACTs) locally.
Medical journalists could track the situation of the farms for the cultivation of Artimisia annua located in Jigawa, Plateau, Ogun, Enugu, Taraba, Kano, Nasarawa, Cross River, Gombe and Katsina states. Leaves of the plants were processed into ACTs which treated malaria effectively without any side effects.
Medical journalists should be interested in the roles of the Department of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigerian Medicinal Plants Development Company (NMPDC) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in the application of Artimisia annum plants to produce ACTs locally.
In short, there is a genuine need for medical journalism in Nigeria to enhance public education on health matters in our country.
Salisu Na’inna Dambatta is a senior journalist.
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