EJN STOP Spillover Media Grantees Train 137 Journalists on One Health in Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire

journalists at a wildlife sanctuary photograph the person they are interviewing
EJN STOP Spillover Media Grantees Train 137 Journalists on One Health in Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire

More than six out of every 10 known infectious diseases are zoonotic—transmitted from animals to humans through direct contact or through food, water, or the environment. Although the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the devastating global consequences of zoonotic diseases, we do not yet understand everything we need to know to prevent the next pandemic. 

The threats posed by zoonotic spillover continue to be a source of debate, conflict and confusion worldwide, contributing to limited public awareness. Governments, policymakers and communities need reliable, evidence-based and robust information to inform decisions and push for change.

Journalists and media organizations seeking to provide high-quality information face several challenges, such as the presence of mis- and disinformation, limited understanding of the science behind spillover, and the lack of publicly available data, among others. More training and resources are needed to bring journalists up to speed quickly, so they can disseminate accurate information to the communities most at risk. 

To fill this gap, earlier this year, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network—a partner of the STOP Spillover consortium led by Tufts University and funded by USAID—announced grants to three media organizations in Asia and Africa to improve journalists' capacity to report on this issue. The grantees were selected following a rigorous judging and interview process. 

In the last week of August, each of these grantees conducted a three-day media workshop for local journalists, training them on how to report about viral zoonotic diseases and the One Health approach to combat spillover. Read on to learn more:

Bangladesh

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, media grantee VOICE (Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment), a rights-based training and advocacy organization, conducted a three-day training for journalists from print, radio, digital and TV media from August 21-23. The training, organized in close collaboration with STOP Spillover Bangladesh, with guidance from USAID and EJN, saw participation from senior scientists, academics and government officials from the public health and One Health sectors. 37 journalists attended, representing all leading national media outlets based in Dhaka including Prothom Alo, Business Standard, 71 TV, Naya Digonto, DBC Bangla and others.

a group of people seated around a table
Participants at the three-day media workshop in Dhaka organized by EJN STOP Spillover grantee VOICE / Credit: Shubhatun Nur Prithy.

The training workshop kicked off with a keynote speech by Belay Mengistu of USAID Bangladesh who spoke about the Agency's recent interventions in Bangladesh, and the media’s role as a partner in the dissemination of information to improve public awareness. Then, Dr. Salim Uzzaman of One Health Bangladesh delivered an insightful presentation that covered the different types of zoonotic diseases, transmission mechanisms, and the interface between animals and humans, and introduced the concept of One Health through a participatory session.

Renowned One Health expert Dr. Nitish Debnath delved into the history of the One Health approach in Bangladesh, its vision and goals, and its achievements to date. Nadia Rimi, country team leader of STOP Spillover in Bangladesh, spoke about the consortium and its strategies to prevent avian influenza, a potential source of spillover in Bangladesh.

On the second day, participants visited two live bird markets in Dhaka: Krishi Market and Town Hall market. Journalists were able to see firsthand the conditions in which live bird markets operate and understand how vulnerable these markets are to a disease spillover. They saw how women and girls may be affected differently from men and boys. For example, men are involved in the direct handling of live birds including butchering, while women work primarily as processors, handling the innards and raw meat. 

“It was a very good opportunity to visit the live bird markets. We could understand how Krishi market has reduced disease outbreak threats due to better infrastructure, while Town hall market still has very little improvement in sanitary conditions, which may increase risks of a bird flu outbreak and spread,” said Afsana Khanam Asha, a journalist from The Business Post.

On the last day, journalists were trained in how to avoid misinformation and disinformation regarding avian influenza and how to communicate zoonosis from a gender-balanced perspective. 

Overall, journalists had positive feedback about the entire training course and how it could benefit their reporting. Shishir Morol, senior health journalist from the country’s leading media outlet Prothom Alo, said that although he had initially committed to attend only one day of the training, the sessions were so compelling, he attended all three days. “There was so much to learn each day of the workshop, I could gather a story idea from each individual session.”

Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, zoonotic diseases including Ebola, Lassa fever and Covid-19 have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years, yet coverage of these public health issues, and their links with climate and environmental health, are often not informative enough. At times, they also lack accuracy. 

At the three-day capacity-building workshop organized by EJN media grantee Free Media Group, the primary focus was to improve journalists' skills to report on zoonotic diseases and spillover risk using a One Health approach. The cohort comprised 25 professional journalists from all leading national and regional media outlets and 35 student journalists from the department of Mass Communications at Freetown University. They learned about the ongoing efforts to minimize these threats and curb their impacts, and explored ways to report on this issue effectively and responsibly. 

Speakers included renowned medical scientist Professor Aiah Gbakima and Dr. Edward Magbity, Team Leader of STOP Spillover Sierra Leone. Gbakima pointed out that viral zoonotic diseases are national security issues that should be treated with utmost seriousness and urgency. He called on journalists to be culturally sensitive in reporting about spillover so that people would not be panicked and encouraged them to investigate and analyze zoonotic disease stories. Magbity spoke about the goals of the consortium and described ongoing research activities in areas at high risks of spillover, such as the Gola Forest in Kenema district.

Senior government officials also attended, including Paul Ngeba, District Livestock officer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, and Harold Thomas, Risk Communication and Public Health Emergency Lead at the Ministry of Health, who noted that public health emergencies require prompt and coordinated action from authorities to protect people’s health and safety. Other presenters included gender rights expert Thierrieh Neneh-Koroma, senior health editor Kemo Chan of Manoreporters West Africa, Dr. Isaac Massaquoi of the School of Information and Communication and Stella Paul, EJN’s STOP Spillover Project Manager, who discussed how to report on zoonotic diseases and One Health in a culturally sensitive and gender-inclusive manner. 

On the second day, journalists and trainers visited the Tacugama Chimpanzee sanctuary on the outskirts of Freetown, where they were briefed on the risks of zoonotic viral spillover due to continued hunting and the illegal trade of chimpanzees. The presentations also focused on the One Health approach to reduce these spillover risks by conserving the wild habitat of animals, implementing wildlife trade laws and advocating for alternatives to game meats among local communities.

On the third and final day of the workshop, Dr Issac Massaquoi and Kemo Cham presented health reporting techniques and tips to journalists, and conducted group exercises for journalists to develop their story ideas. These story ideas were then pitched to a panel of senior journalists who gave input and advice on how to make them more gender-inclusive, culturally sensitive, and science-focused.

“Although I have been reporting on health and environment for several years, it was the very first time I had the opportunity to attend a training that combined both the issues as it focused on One Health. I have reported on zoonotic diseases before, but now I have more clarity, especially of the issues that are not reported about. For example, the connection between biodiversity loss and threats of more zoonotic diseases. Also, visiting the chimpanzee sanctuary was a win-win for me,” said Emma Kamara Black, a journalist from Nightwatch Press.

Côte d'Ivoire

In Abidjan, EJN grantee Eburnie Today conducted two separate training workshops. A total of 40 journalists were trained in the two trainings held respectively in July and August. The workshops introduced participants to the concept of zoonotic diseases and One Health, and offered ideas to ensure audiences are better informed about One Health, with access to clear, science-based but accessible information.

The second and last training by Eburnie Today took place from August 30 – September 1.

On day 1 of the three-day workshop, journalists were introduced to the STOP Spillover country team. The team presented information on zoonotic diseases and One Health including how a zoonotic viral spillover happens and the history behind One Health concept. "Over 70% of new, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases originate in animals. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the considerable global risks that can arise when zoonotic diseases spread to humans. That is why it is important that, in addition to scientific research, the media can play an important role in raising public awareness," said Arlette Olaby – team lead of STOP Spillover team in Côte d'Ivoire.

On the same day, journalists also learned about the relationship between environmental issues and health, the impact of global warming on health and the sustainable management of household waste, among other topics.

On the second day, participants were given a crash course in science journalism, sources, and providing resources to report on work zoonotic disease and One health. They workshopped pitches to health stories, organized a work plan and learned how to identify and counter health-related mis- and disinformation. Finally, through group exercises, journalists learned how to produce a relevant story using different media formats, including long-form print stories, multimedia, radio and television. 

On the third and the final day, journalists were taken on a field visit to the Côte d'Ivoire Pasteur Institute (IPCI) where they were able to tour the laboratories, departments, and units of research involving zoonotic diseases. They also received a special briefing by senior professors Méité Sindou and Méité Souleymane about the IPCI and its research activities.

The student journalists and professional journalists were positive in their feedback, and also expressed interest in forming a One Health media network. They felt that the training by Eburnie Today provided grounds to start networking amongst themselves.

"For us students, this is an excellent opportunity to learn new things about health and to be in contact with other journalists who are already working. I am happy to say that I have learned a lot of new things thanks to what the researchers have taught me and the experiences they have shared during this training session," said Cissé Aminata, a student journalist at the ISTC Polytechnique.

"Now I have a better understanding of zoonotic disease and One Health, and of why the media needs to be involved in the STOP Spillover project. I hope this project will be able to continue in Côte d'Ivoire and give journalists the opportunity to receive grants to produce quality content so that they can better inform our people," said Agodio Dieu Donné, a radio producer from Radio Saphir Bouaké.

a group in PPE
Journalists wearing PPE at their visit to the Pasteur Institute during the training workshop conducted by Eburnie Today in Côte d'Ivoire / Credit: Suy Kahofi. 

Banner image: Journalists visit Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Sierra Leone, during the three-day workshop organized by EJN Stop Spillover's media grantee, Free Media Group / Credit: Stella Paul.

By visiting EJN's site, you agree to the use of cookies, which are designed to improve your experience and are used for the purpose of analytics and personalization. To find out more, read our Privacy Policy