SCIENCE AFRICA AND HEJNU REPORT ON SOLUTION JOURNALISM TRAINING
1. Name of the training: Covid-19 Solution Journalism Training
Program Sponsor: Science Africa.
Venue: Fairway Hotel, Kampala Uganda
Dates: 25th and 26th October , 2021
Duration total: 2 Days
2. Background and Objective of the Training:
The two-days training brought together 20 journalists to enhance their knowledge on pertinent issues relating to solution journalism with focus on COVID-19 pandemic. Twelve Journalists attended the training physically and eight remotely via zoom.
3. Participants Expectations
- How solution journalism can be applied in reporting science stories?
- What solutions journalism really is and what are its principles?
- Updates on the latest initiatives into the COVID-19 vaccination drive
- Expert explanations on whether vaccines can be safely mixed and matched
- Explanation from the experts of the reported reduced new cases and death of COVID-19
- Information on what COVID-19 waves mean
DAY-ONE (25th October)
It started with introductory remarks by Daniel Otunge, the Deputy Executive Director, Science Africa who welcomed the participants and gave a recap of the previous training held earlier in February.
This was followed by a presentation by Dr. Daniel Kyabayinze, an epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health who started shortly after brief introductions by participants.
Kyabayinze’s Presentation gave highlights on where Uganda started on the COVID-19 journey when the first case was recorded in March 2021. While he showed the epidemic curve from then, he said Uganda’s epidemic became tough in April when Uganda records its first case of the aggressive Delta variant which originated from India on the 15th of April.
- He said all the variants in the country were imported apart from the Ugandan variant noting that this is the reason the Ministry of Health was insisting on sustaining testing at the airport.
- He mainly focused the presentation on vaccination and issues that have been raising from it starting with the types of vaccines being used in the country including adeno- vector vaccines like the AstraZeneca and mRNA technology used in the manufacture of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.
- Other issues highlighted in Kyabayinze’s presentation include where Uganda blundered in the response, the numbers that have been vaccinated, myths involved, side effects of the drug and the vaccine brands already being used in the country and those that are expected. He gave clues on what they consider when sending specific vaccines to specific communities for instance he said that the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been reserved for mobile people such as truck drivers, fisher folks and pastoralists.
- Participants asked questions and some of them are as below: –
- Flavia Nassaka, a journalist from Uganda Radio Network asked the doctor to explain why recent models predicting a rise in COVID-19 cases have all gone wrong. He said transmission of the virus is explained by a number of issues also called spreader events including open markets, big conferences and that the epi-curve was made basing on interventions by the Ministry of Health. He said for an epidemic to be controlled, experts have to focus on the hazard, the vector, the environment and social behavior. He said in modelling, it’s hard to predict how people will behave which is important in countering or fuelling spread.
- Muhammad Wamala, a journalist from Salt Media asked whether Uganda has defeated the virus or the third wave and asked why Uganda is maintaining testing at the airport. The doctor says they are maintaining guard on entry points because they have to capture variants that come into the country early on to be able to manage them properly. Kyabayinze says the persistent low number of infections doesn’t mean Uganda cannot have another aggressive wave.
- Esther Nakkazi, the facilitator and HEJNU President asked about the doctor’s experience working at the border of Uganda and Tanzania where they for a long time were not testing their entrants. The doctor says as long as truckers were coming to Uganda they were subjected to a test.
- Other questions asked by participants include the non-recognition of people vaccinated by the India made AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe, the myths surrounding vaccination and why Uganda is insisting on not mixing and matching vaccines yet the country has had a cocktail of vaccines.
This session started with Daniel Otunge, the Project Lead Africa Health Solutions Journalism Initiative (AHSJI) giving a brief presentation on the mandate of the initiative.
He said they have four objectives including building capacity for health journalists, editors and educators in solutions journalism, increasing collaborations among journalists and communities for effective SOJO based reporting, contributing to health policy process by sharing relevant information and disseminating curated issues – SOJO stories with the public for behavior change.
Among the programmes he highlighted that they do are fellowships for university students, training of trainers focusing on groups like journalism lecturers, conducting research to inform best practices in addition to offering SOJO grants.
Otunge encouraged participants to apply for an upcoming mini grant when the next round is announced. Apart from that, they have a fellowship programme targeting five journalists who can take up an idea and develop a number of stories around it.
Some of the partners of the Initiative include the Solutions Journalism Network, Science Africa and the Africa Science Media Center.
After his session, one of the participants Goodluck Musinguzi from Kigezi news agency in South Western Uganda welcomed the fact that there are grants because his media house is already collaborating with journalists elsewhere to write about topical issues.
The third session was facilitated at Esther Nakkazi, the Founder/President of HEJNU. She started by asking participants about what they know about SOJO who shared their views about the reporting technique.
- The purpose of solution journalism was explained as a concept developed by journalists in New York working with the popular New York Times who thought of shifting how news should be presented. The three journalists had a mission of offering responses to social problems. Nakkazi says solutions journalism comes in handy now when the country is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic that is causing panic. She said journalists can use this SOJO idea introduced in 2013 to offer communities hope.
- Apart from defining what SOJO is, she offered techniques of doing it and why it is important. She said with SOJO, it’s rigorous, evidence based and requires journalists to go beyond what they hear by going to the communities. She says journalists should be in constant touch with the communities.
- Participants expressed their idea of what solution journalism is and should be and these included: solution journalism provided problem solving, solution journalism contrasts and comparisons, follow up on recovery cases, emphasize on stories encouraging the public to continue following SOPs and stories that give hope such as vaccination can help in the reopening of the economy.
- Participants were given an assignment to identify one solution journalism that they have done to share for colleagues to take lessons and critique it to establish what more could have been done on the story.
DAY TWO (26th October, 2021)
After a recap of the previous session on principles of solutions journalism, participants were asked to share solutions journalism stories they have published or ideas of stories they can do using the principles of solution journalism.
- Esther Nakkazi, the facilitator gave an exercise where participants were asked to brainstorm on SOJO story ideas on the problem of food waste.
After the exercise, Science Africa’s Daniel Otunge guided participants on how they can execute story ideas discussed during the session.
Some of the story ideas discussed include: –
- Moses Ndaiye, a journalist from Nation Media Group’s KFM and Ddembe FM presented an idea on the injectable ARVs for people living with HIV. His story idea speaks to solving the problem of pill burden where he will interview a patient who will give their experience taking multiple drugs. He plans to speak to researchers, officials from Uganda AIDS Commission and Ministry of Health.
- Goodluck Musinguzi, a journalist from Kigezi pitched a story on accountability in the health sector citing inconsistencies in health budgets at the local government level. He says local governments are not accounting for the funds allocated to them.
- Muhammad Wamala from Salt Media in Kampala pitched about access to ARVs and how people with motorcycles and bicycles can help bridge the distance gap. In the story he wants to establish how people living in hard to reach areas for example islands were accessing medicines especially at the height of the lockdown.
- Richard Drasimaku a journalist from Arua shared an environment story he already completed where he investigated whether helping people fight poverty could protect wildlife from being poached.
This was a question and answer session that run for about an hour where journalists were interacting with Dr. Misaki Wayengera a virologist based at Makerere University.
Misaki is also a member of the National COVID-19 scientific Advisory Committee and researcher behind both the Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) for COVID-19 and the vaccine mix and match study which is just taking off in Uganda.
- He started by giving a preamble about the vaccine types Uganda has received including Sinovac, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer/BioNtech and Johnson and Johnson vaccine and said they currently don’t have data to support mixing these vaccines apart from mixing AstraZaneca and Pfizer. In Uganda, he says government’s stand is there shouldn’t be any mixing and matching jabs.
- He said one of the things they are observing is that people don’t know what vaccines they were given due to information recording challenges noting that to be given second jabs, they rely on what people tell them as what vaccine they got as a first jab.
Participants then started asking questions which the doctor replied ranging from how far they had gone with the mix and match study which they undertook having realized that vaccine supplies largely depended on what donors were providing.
He said in this study, they will also assess the incidence of other acute respiratory diseases.
Busein Samilu a journalist from Chimp reports asked a question relating to improper recording of vaccination data where Misaki says capture of data is a big hurdle as they rush to have over four million people vaccinated by the end of year. He said their data is taken manually and has to be transferred later to an e- system where in some cases errors okay and yet there are no reference points to verify the information. He says knowing the kind of vaccine one receives should be personal responsibility.
Sarah Natoolo from Uganda Broadcasting Corporation inquired about the time a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 should take before getting vaccinated and the response was that the guideline is that those that have been exposed should wait for three to six months to go for the jab because scientists assume that by that time the patient has what is referred to as infection immunity which wanes with time. Misaki says while they should be vaccinating people to establish their status before the jab, this has an enormous financial implication that the country cannot afford.
He says emerging data shows if one is acutely infected and they get vaccinated two to three days later, a person’s body will over react.
Flavia Nassaka a journalist asked about the risk of taking two doses of the vaccine within a shorter than recommended range. The doctor responded by saying that there will be no enhanced immunity as a result. When AstraZaneca was approved, the initial guidance was for a boaster dose to be taken 4 weeks later but they have now found that the longer one waits the better for immunity and it’s the reason waiting time has now been extended to between eight to twelve weeks.
Nakkazi asked about whether there are studies done on categories of people who can’t mix vaccines and whether involving manufacturers of vaccines in studies doesn’t compromise the results. While it’s common for pharmaceuticals to work with researchers on drug studies, the response was that for this COVID-19 mix and match study, it’s problematic to convince two manufacturers to collaborate on the study considering that the pharmaceutical industry is very competitive and key decisions such which pharma should lead can be hard to make.
Other journalists asked questions ranging from boaster doses, why Uganda is receiving a lot of donations and whether a person who has been infected can get the virus the second among others.
The days SOJO training was concluded with participants taking a group picture with Dr. Misaki Wayengera. Apart from that, journalists published some stories from the training, some of them are provided in links below.
Published work from the training