Last month, RTI International and the International Trachoma Initiative supported a series of events to promote effective media coverage of the national NTD program in Senegal with funding from USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The events included Senegalese journalists, national program managers and others working on NTD control and elimination programs in Senegal. “We were really pleased with the level of interest and enthusiasm among participants during the meetings. I think we were effective in helping get the word out about NTDs with many local journalists and I know NTD Coordinators came away feeling more comfortable talking to the media,” explained Dr. Mawo Fall, Resident NTD Program Advisor with RTI International and the ENVISION project in Senegal.
Why Involve the Media?
The media can play an important role in the prevention and control of NTDs. It can generate increased public awareness about NTDs, providing information on the cause of NTDs, how they can be prevented and the resources available for those already suffering from the effects of disease. It also can serve as a critical tool for national NTD programs to promote participation in national drug distribution campaigns – and in some cases correct misinformation that may be circulating about NTDs and the medicines used to treat them. It’s important that national program managers build a relationship with their local media and learn to effectively use the media to communicate with affected communities in their countries.
Coverage of NTD control and elimination in the media
Twenty journalists from multiple media outlets in Senegal came to learn about NTDs and government initiatives to eliminate them. They had an opportunity to meet with national program staff and build a working relationship with the Ministry of Health. This introduction was mutually beneficial; resulting in journalists recommending that the Ministry continue sharing information and new developments with them via email and further workshops so they can keep the public informed.
Strengthening the communications skills of national NTD program staff
Another component of the initiative was to help Ministry of Health officials more effectively communicate with the media. “We spent two days working with Ministry and NGO officials, first to help them craft their core messages on NTDs and then to teach them ways to deliver those messages effectively in radio, TV and print interviews. They committed fully to the training and came away realizing how to talk through the media to engage the public on NTDs,” said Geoffrey Knox, ITI’s advocacy consultant. A highlight of the training was the chance to role play media interviews with studio-quality lighting and sound, and later critique themselves during recording playback.
The events culminated in a field visit, taking a team of journalists, training facilitators and doctors from the Ministry of Health to villages in the nearby Thiès region. There, journalists met local community health workers and individuals suffering from NTDs to better understand their personal experiences and the challenges they face in their daily lives because of the diseases. One such individual, a man who had been suffering from lymphatic filariasis for 35 years, described to journalists how his swollen and lacerated leg had kept him from working and how the pain frequently confined him to bed. A woman, also suffering from elephantiasis, told the journalists how the pain and necessary care for her swollen leg severely decreased her productivity. The journalists appreciated this chance to understand the human dimension of the diseases they had learned about during the training, and several went on to write news articles on their experience.
An ongoing relationship
Following the trainings and field visit, several of Senegal’s major news sources, including the Senegalese Press Agency and L’Enquête published news articles on NTDs in Senegal. Some such articles can be found at the following links:
At the close of the events, Ministry of Health and NGO representatives and the participating journalists agreed to continue joint efforts to keep the public informed of NTD activities, particularly regarding upcoming NTD campaigns. The relationships formed through the workshop, along with the skills developed and knowledge gained, will provide a strong foundation for future collaboration and communication.