Toolbox to connect African health journalists and researchers now available online, By Aghan Daniel

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A health toolbox which aims to connect African journalists to researchers, including the wider science journalism community, fast and on demand, is now available at https://healthtoolbox.wfsj.org/.

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Adele Baleta, the South African science journalist facilitating a workshop for non-science
Adele Baleta, the South African science journalist facilitating a workshop for non-science journalists on infectious diseases reporting, which was organised by  the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA)  in collaboration with the World Federation of Science Journalists  (WFSJ)  in Nairobi Kenya, October 2016                                                                                                                               Photo:  Aghan Daniel 

Partners in the project have embarked on developing a database of health journalists, experts and communication officers working in health research institutions who will act as the link to the institutes.

Communication officers stand to benefit from this web based tool as they will be key in helping journalists to source accurate and timely information from health experts from their research institutes.

The tool could not have come at a better time especially given that at times local journalists may be unaware of key research results publications  of public interest or they may altogether not know of research being carried out – a gap that this tool, with partnership from the communication officers, will fill.

This digital solution provides support to communication officers and researchers to connect to credible local journalists, and vice versa as well as support journalists to accurately and, in a timely manner, highlight research centres scientific knowledge and expertise. Besides, it helps to monitor emerging projects and issues in the targeted regions.

Health toolbox is a simple and easily accessible digital environment which will increase the accessibility and uptake of data and knowledge from health related scientific research, and link up local journalists to the wider science health research community.

It is available in English and in French. It is responsive for Android and IOS smart phones, tablets (2G, 3G, 4G) and websites. Its contents is also accessible offline. It will enable those journalists to easily access and report using credible science information and data and visualization tools.

A resource centre which covers basic data on infectious diseases, including 11 factsheets covering basic facts on Infectious Diseases (ID) such as Ebola, Hepatitis C, malaria and pandemic influenza is available. Others include yellow fever, Avian flu, MERS SRAS and tuberculosis. Besides, information on AIDS, ZIKA, Measles and Dengue are presented.

The team is also considering inclusion of global health modules on dementia, vaccines and AMR. Each factsheet contains basic ID information that every journalist needs to know, including causes, symptoms, mortality, transmission routes, epidemiology, drugs, vaccines, etc.

The available information is easily understandable for people without any scientific or medical background, explaining difficult concepts and avoiding jargon as much as possible. Each sheet follows the same structure: What is the ID? What are the symptoms? How does it spread? How is it treated? How can it be prevented? What’s the long-term outlook? The fact sheets also provide links to reliable resources among others.

Partners in the project include the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Johnson & Johnson, Concordia University, On Our Radar, CREO and MESHA.

“To us at MESHA, the introduction of the health toolbox has been a revelation as to what technology can do to ease the burden on journalists accessing experts. A lot of our members use the toolbox with very rewarding results,” says Violet Otindo, the chairperson of the association in Nairobi.

African journalists for sure will find the use of this tool as one which aims to improve the depth and quality of health reporting across the continent. The tool will find a ready team of experts who will for sure, also tie very closely with the soon to be launched MESHA monthly “cafés,” projects which are informal programs which will bring together health journalists with key researchers, implementers and/or policy makers and informed advocates to discuss important issues and information around HIV prevention research and implementation and the larger HIV response.

We want to utilize this toolkit to the maximum as we roll out this program from November 28. The one year program will be supported by AVAC and USAID.

Aghan Daniel is the secretary of the Nairobi-based Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA). H e can be reached via  aghan@meshakenya.org

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