It was a harvest of encomiums for Roche, a popular science-driven healthcare company, as it unveiled 15 health journalists which they are to sponsor in the Health Journalist Academy. The journalists who were the first beneficiaries of the academy were according to them drawn from print, broadcast and new media whose work Roche believes will heighten awareness of health-related issues and promote healthy living among Nigerians.
The Health Journalist Academy, the first of its kind in Nigeria is an initiative being organised in partnership with the School of Media and Communications of the Pan-Atlantic University. According to the Country Manager of Roche in Nigeria, Mr. Herman Addae, the main aim of the academy is to enrich health reportage and coverage in Nigeria by sharpening the skills and technique of health journalists and exposing them to latest trends and techniques for specialized reporting on diseases and healthcare. The training will also provide them deeper insights on the general health status of the nation.
The idea of sponsoring the journalists in the academy according to the country manager is also driven by the Roche philosophy of empowering people to proactively manage their health and to achieve improved health care.
While revealing more on why Roche took the bold initiative in improving the quality of health reporters, Mr. Addae said that their decision was informed the setback the healthcare system in Nigeria has suffered in terms of inadequate healthcare professionals and lack of infrastructure.
Other reasons he listed are, low level of awareness about some diseases and management, and of course finance, and singled out the low awareness as the centre and the biggest of all the challenges.
“The biggest challenge of awareness within the general public about health and about diseases condition is the biggest, this central challenge points to the fact that if the knowledge level and information about their health should be improved, they would have a way of proactively preventing diseases and also managing them effectively when afflicted. That would help people in keeping healthy,” he stated.
He continued: “At Roche, we are very passionate about contributing to Nigeria’s health sector beyond our commercial activities. We are convinced that our duty as responsible corporate citizens goes beyond manufacturing and selling of medicines and medical devices, we therefore decided to explore new ways to improve health delivery in Nigeria. And one of the ways we are exploring is the Health Journalist Academy.”
Explaining the procedure of selecting the 15 journalists, he said: “In August this year, the health journalist academy was opened to Nigerian journalists across traditional and new media platform. Entries were submitted on the future of journalism in Nigeria. It was collated and vetted by an independent panel of judges and over 30 candidates were shortlisted and were invited for one on one interview out of which 15 emerged as the first set of beneficiaries of this great initiative,” Mr. Addae recounted.
“We are here today to emphasize that at Roche, we are committed to supporting health care in Nigeria. We appreciate the efforts of the students, judges, the School for Media and Communications, the Federal Ministry of Health and partners like the Swiss Mission who have taken up the responsibility to collaborate with us to improve the health standard of our people in Nigeria,” he said.
Mr. Addae also said there is room for other collaborators to join the moving train. “We are openly inviting other collaborators to join us in this worthy effort. We truly believe that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation and so no effort must be spared on this very noble endeavor” he said.
The Dean of the School of Media and Communication, Dr. Ikechukwu Obiaya, expressed delight to be part of the initiative by Roche, thereby making the academy a very big promise for journalists in Nigeria.
He siad “we are happy because journalists are change agents and when you want to bring about change in a society, when you anchor such change on journalists you are guaranteed to achieve the success.
“Secondly, we recognize that health is a very critical sector that needs urgent attention because over the years as we have heard, it appeared that not much attention have been given to the health sector and so we are glad that right now the company has taken initiative to make sure we have the right education about health sector because when you educate journalists, you are actually educating the entire masses,” Ikehukwu said.
While assuring the students of unique training, he said: “We will bring on board our unique learning frame works, teaching expertise, nurtured by ethics. We will bring on board our industry contacts, our brand image and highly qualified faculty backed by experience. Journalism profession has suffered some of form of neglect thereby leading to huge decline in professionalism and in standards.”
The initiative attracted encomiums from different quarters including from the Federal Ministry of Health. Dr Ngozi Azodoh, Director of Health Planning and statistics who spoke on behalf of Mr. Linus Awute, Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health, commended Roche for the initiative, saying, it is a clear manifestation of the commitment the company has in investing and empowering everyone in the health sector.
Recognizing the importance of what Roche has done, Dr. Azodoh said, the idea of the health journalist academy is built on empowerment. “Health is about empowering people to take responsibility for their health, it is about empowering the individuals to hold their government accountable, it is about empowering institutions to provide services. It is only God that guarantees, health but our country should guarantee us health services and so we want to thank Roche for this initiative,” she said.
While highlighting the duties of health journalists, Dr. Azodoh said a health journalist is someone who is empowered to inform, educate, and advocate for better health system.
“Talking about information, our recent experience in the public health sector has shown that the public health information was key to the containment of Ebola. The people of Nigeria, for the first time trusted their government. So as people were spreading rumours and people waited for what the minister will say, the minister came on air to address journalists at 8 a.m. every morning. So openness and accountability is key in building a resilient public health system,” she stated.
“A public health journalist is an advocate. Health is different from other sectors. I sat on the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO) on behalf of Nigeria for three-and-half years and I saw what information and empowerment can do. So for this class of 2015, we are requesting that you advocate for support and global solidarity for the health sector,” she advised.
In the same vein, Deputy Head of Mission, Swiss Embassy, Dr. Daniel Cavegn, who officially launched the first-ever Health Journalist Academy in Nigeria applauded Roche for the giant stride.
“I am delighted to be here for the lunch of the Health Journalist Academy which is the first of its kind to the best of my knowledge in Nigeria. Swiss land is particularly glad to be associated with this programme also because of the importance of health for all the people and for Nigerians as a nation. Health is a very complex issue, ranging from research, proper education of health personnel, treatment facility, and medication facility.
“Even there is a serious lack of basic knowledge about various illnesses’ treatment, which means there’s need for general public awareness and education and this is why such an academy as the one Roche launched today is so important,” Dr Cavegn noted.
Applauding the initiative, Prof Durosnmi-Etti, Chairman, Cancer Education Advocacy of Nigeria (CEAFRON) said that he believes the academy will bring the realization of their mission and vision at CEAFRON.
“Our major goal is to engage in the fight against cancer through education and advocacy at the level of all stakeholders. The largest group among stakeholders will be the general public whose level of education and awareness on the disease can help to reduce the burden. To reach out effectively and educate the general public, there is no other group that can do this more effectively than the gentle men of the press” Prof Etti said.
This story was published in Newswatch Times on September 10, 2015.