Kampala 20th December 2018: - Uganda’s Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng has commended the tremendous contribution of journalists during public health emergencies. She was speaking at a one-day orientation of journalist on Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) held in Kampala, yesterday.
Dr Aceng noted that public health is heavily dependent on community awareness and the media plays a vital role in reaching the communities. However, she highlighted the importance of factual reporting and responsibility to avoid unnecessary panic and anxiety in the public. “You are our partners and it is your responsibility to report accurately and clearly so that together we save lives,” she said, adding that the responsible Ministry of Health staff and herself are always ready to help journalists do their work better.
The orientation of journalists on EVD is yet another giant step taken by the Ministry of health supported by WHO to prepare for a possible EVD outbreak. In this endeavour, over 50 local and international journalist based in Uganda were oriented on various aspect of EVD with particular emphasis on the critical role they play in public health emergencies.
In his remarks, the WHO Representative in Uganda, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam reiterated the importance of responsible, factual and clear reporting. He pointed out that the media being channels of life-saving public information, have an obligation to report objectively with a human heart because whatever they report has implications on how quickly disease outbreaks are contained and the number of lives saved.
“The journalist profession depends on trust. You can only be trusted if you report facts. It is better to delay a story than release one with wrong information,” Dr Yonas cautioned noting that during a disease outbreak, facts, fairness and empathy are paramount. “Rumours damage reputations and create panic, both locally and internationally making it difficult for us to respond effectively to the outbreaks,” he said.
The media orientation, delivered by technical staff from MoH and WHO focused on the current EVD outbreak in DRC, Uganda’s preparedness and response plan, emergency health journalism, rumour management and better working modalities between MoH, WHO and journalists.
In an update on preparedness activities, the journalists were informed that while there is no confirmed case of EVD in Uganda, over USD 19m has been spent so far to strengthen the country’s systems to respond to any eventuality. As Minister Aceng noted, Uganda’s success in responding to outbreaks depends on early preparations, quick response and well trained and committed staff. “We take these issues seriously and we invest time and resources into them to ensure we are ever ready, “she said.
Regarding rumour management, the journalists were cautioned to always report verified information. They were requested never to rush into declaring disease outbreaks without consulting with the Ministry of Health because this can plunge the country into dire local and international social and economic catastrophes.
On their part, the journalists appreciated the opportunity to interact with the MoH and WHO leadership. They recognized the important role they play and pledged to work even closer with both institutions on emergency and public health reporting. They also requested for field visits to better understand the situation on the ground especially in the high-risk districts of Uganda, where preparedness activities are being implemented.
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