Uganda Health Journalists to hold Science Cafés

By Wilfred Senyange

The Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU), has partnered with the New York based Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), to hold monthly Science Cafés for journalists.

Science cafés are informal meetings where members of HEJNU will have an opportunity to interact with scientists, members of the civil society and other advocates on several issues pertaining to HIV/Aids research, vaccine development and other emerging new tools for HIV prevention, said Esther Nakkazi the president of HEJNU.

The inaugural cafe, held on January 12, at the HEJNU offices in Ntinda discussed new HIV prevention technologies.

The speakers included Dr Patrick Ndase, an HIV research expert, Sylvia Nakasi, a health rights advocate with the Uganda Network of Aids Service Organisations (UNASO) and Angelo Kaggwa from AVAC.

While the science cafés will be held in an informal way, usually over drinks and snacks, they will also provide an opportunity for journalists to interact freely with scientists and also build a database of useful contacts that they can use for future stories, said Nakkazi.

Mr Kaggwa said the cafes are also avenues for journalists to get story ideas, which they can then pursue to do in depth analytical pieces on a specific subject that will have been discussed at a particular cafe.

But generally, the idea of the café is to be able to impart knowledge on a specific topic, and ensure that journalists understand these issues, so that they are able to write factual stories based on the knowledge they will have acquired.

On the other hand, it also gives scientists and other health advocates an opportunity to get to know the journalists better and create a working rapport, said Kaggwa.

As HEJNU continues to grow, we hope the science cafés will be one way of being relevant to us as a health journalists Association and engaging with the wider public on health issues that affect us all, said Evelyn Lirri a freelance science journalist.

Also, journalists have a responsibility to explain both the benefits and the costs of scientific and technological progress, said Lirri. "How they move from breaking news coverage of disasters, to smart “second-day” stories, or more revealing investigations that take a week or several months to do is what will test their skills as professionals."