Building Bridges For Effective Health Emergency Communication Between Media and NGOs: The WHO Example

The media in Borno state and the WHO, fostering a stronger relationship that would benefit both parties and, more importantly, the people affected by the crisis.

By Abdulkareem Haruna

One of the key takeaways from the WHO-facilitated three days workshop for media personalities in Borno state was the imperatives of accurate and timely reporting on health emergencies by journalists.

The workshop, organized in collaboration with Borno State Primary Health Care Development Agency, reechoes how the media is crucial in informing the public about the risks and dangers associated with health emergencies, such as disease outbreaks or epidemics.

Participants were reminded that by providing accurate and timely information, they can help to prevent panic, inform people on how to stay safe and mobilize support for the response efforts.

Another important lesson from the workshop was the need for behavioral change reporting. Health emergencies require a change in behavior from the affected communities, such as the adoption of hygienic practices or the use of protective equipment. The media can promote behavioral change by providing information, education, and communication on adopting these behaviors.

The WHO’s workshop also provided insights into the WHO’s inner workings and mandates in health emergencies. This knowledge is crucial for journalists and media professionals, as it helps them to understand the context of WHO’s response mechanism during health emergencies. By providing this in-house information, the workshop helped to build trust and credibility between the media and the WHO, which is essential for effective communication and collaboration.

The success of the WHO’s workshop in Borno state demonstrates the importance of fostering a robust and symbiotic relationship between the media and humanitarian organizations.

Indeed the, humanitarian organizations have a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and resources that can benefit the press in reporting crises and emergencies. At the same time, the media has the power to inform, educate, and mobilize support for the response efforts, which can help to save lives and alleviate suffering.

Of course those three days engagement is not the only example of how humanitarian organizations try to work with the media to achieve common goals. UNICEF has also been working closely with the press in northeast Nigeria to not only create awareness on how the Boko Haram insurgency had impacted vulnerable groups like children and how to mobilize support for their protection and well-being, but it also has, through media collaboration, being able to reach a wider audience, increase public awareness, and strengthen its response efforts.

However, for this relationship to work, the humanitarians and the media must recognize and respect each other’s priorities and goals. Humanitarian organizations need to understand the importance of transparency and accountability in reporting, while the media needs to acknowledge the need for confidentiality and security in humanitarian operations. By working together, they can bridge these differences and achieve their common goals.

Furthermore, it is essential to recognize the role of local media in reporting on crises and emergencies. Local media deeply understand the context, culture, and language of the affected communities, making them better positioned to provide accurate and relevant information. By engaging with local media, humanitarian organizations can improve their outreach and impact while supporting the development of independent and professional media in the region.

The workshop has interestingly bought journalists and influencers to interface with star resource persons at the Workshop, like Professor Danjuma Gambo, who emphasized that Journalists’ cardinal responsibility, at all times, is “to use appropriate skills, capacity, and technology to gather, process and report events, issues, people and situations from a neutrally disinterested position and in the public interest.”

Professor Gambo added that in any public health emergency, media personalities must work through all the five critical phases of Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery”.

Professor Wilson, who comes from the Mass Communication department, University of Maiduguri, as Danjuma Gambo, also provided insights on what the public wants in terms of prevention which the media do not offer during an outbreak, even as he stressed the need for journalists to, at all times, provide helpful information to people to enable them to make vital decision. He also noted the significance of using data for impactful reporting.

The workshop was even made very interesting with a presentation by a veteran newspaper editor, Dr. Marcel Mbamalu, who emphasized that regardless of their callings, journalists and social media influencers must see themselves as public health workers who could use their medium to save lives.

WHO acting emergency manager, Dr. Samuel Yenyi had, on the last day of the training, implored participants that have gone through 14 sessions in the three days engagement, it is expected that the media would actively support the WHO and Borno health ministry in passing out messages that will curb the outbreak of diseases like cholera and save lives. He said the coming rainy seasons portends greater danger to the safety and health concerns of the people; as such, the media must deploy its newly improved capacity in health emergency response communication and behavioral change to reverse the ugly trends of the last two years.

In conclusion, the media and humanitarian organizations have bettered their understanding of having a shared responsibility to inform the public, raise awareness, and mobilize support in times of crisis and emergencies.

In conclusion, the media and humanitarian organisations have a crucial role to play in addressing crises and emergencies that affect human lives across the world.

Finally, the WHO’s workshop in Borno state is an excellent example of how this symbiotic relationship can work. As such, it should serve as a model for future collaborations between the media and humanitarian organizations.

Abdulkareem is a journalist based in Northeast Nigeria

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