An inside look at some of the challenges of covering reproductive health in Uganda

In the area of sexual and reproductive health, the Ugandan media coverage is centred on maternal health issues, according to research.
A study provisionally titled ‘A qualitative analysis of Ugandan media coverage of women’s reproductive health’ found that the majority of the articles covered by four print media houses in the month of May addressed pregnancy and childbirth, whereas infertility and abortion were discussed considerably less.
It also found that of the articles where the authors’ gender could be identified, more than half (56 per cent) were written by men. “This finding is remarkable, since there are more female journalists covering health exclusively,” said Esther Nakkazi, President of the Health Journalists Network (HEJNU). However, only 38 per cent of the articles were written by women. Six per cent of the articles were written by men and women together.
The study was conducted in the months of May-July 2015 by a multidisciplinary team; consisting of media professionals of the Health Journalist Network in Uganda (HEJNU) and academia from the Athena Institute of the VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The team is in the process of analysing over 200 articles on women’s reproductive health issues from four local newspapers published between 1 May and 31 May 2015 and 19 in-depth interviews with journalists from various local broadcast and print media. Through these, the study explores how Ugandan media frames women’s reproductive health issues and what factors influence journalists’ frame-building.
“It appears that media houses lack the funds to facilitate journalists to go upcountry in pursuit of a story. This not only means that stories are left untold, but also invites NGOs to facilitate transport and accommodation in return for a story about their projects. This poses serious limitations to the journalist’s objectivity,” said Rosanne Anholt, the lead researcher in the study, which she carried out as part of her Master’s degree.
“In playing the role of informer, watchdog, and advocate, the media could play a significant role in improving women’s reproductive health outcomes in Uganda, but in doing so, journalists clearly face considerable challenges,” she continued.
Health stories are under-prioritised within Uganda’s media houses. “It appears that preference is given to political or business stories, which means that health stories may be dropped at any time. Coupled with insufficient pay and high work pressure causes journalists to use their profession as a stepping stone for other, better paying jobs, such as with an international NGO,” she said.
Nakkazi said that although health does not receive priority in the media, there has been improvement over the years. “For instance, there are some media houses that have a health pull-out every week and there are radio stations that increasingly air programmes that aim to improve health awareness among the public,” she explained.
The study also found that New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, was the publication with the highest number of articles on women’s reproductive health per edition with an average of 2.7 articles.
As a runner-up, Daily Monitor, the leading independent daily, averages 2.2 articles on women’s reproductive health per edition. The ratios for Red Pepper (daily tabloid) and The Observer (independent tri-weekly) were considerably lower. They averaged 1.3 and 1.1 articles per edition respectively.
Nakkazi, said there has been tremendous improvement in the coverage of sexual and reproductive health by the Ugandan media. She said this will help inform policy, public attitudes and hopefully improve budget allocation for these issues.
The preliminary findings of the study were presented on Wednesday 22 July 2015 to a group of 15 journalists from various local broadcast and print media during a dissemination seminar held in Ntinda, Kampala at the HEJNU offices.
The seminar was attended by guest of honour Dr Eleanor Nakintu, affiliated with Nsambya Hospital, Women’s Health Initiative Uganda, and Uganda Martyrs University. She emphasised the wide range of challenges women face in seeking care, reaching care, and receiving adequate care.
The research team included Rosanne Anholt, a master student of international public health under supervision of Elsbet Lodenstein, a PhD candidate at the Athena Institute at the VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Esther Nakkazi director and founder of the Health Journalist Network in Uganda (HEJNU) and a freelance science journalist; and Evelyn Lirri, a freelance journalist affiliated with HEJNU.