The editor of ManoReporters, Kemo Cham is among 40 journalists selected from across Africa as part of the inaugural African Union funded health journalism fellowship.
The CPHIA Journalism Fellowship is part of the annual Conference on Public in Africa organized by the continental body through its specialized public health agency – the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). The fellow programme aims to build a cohort of journalists across the continent with skills in the nuances of health reporting, which is expected to enhance public health discourse, promote knowledge dissemination, and strengthen accountability for health policies and programmes.
As an autonomous body of the AU, Africa CDC is tasked with strengthening the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes. The agency said it designed the journalism fellowship to equip journalists with skills to help bridge the information gap, combat health misinformation, and raise awareness around key health issues.
The fellowship package include sponsorship for all 40 fellows to attend the third edition of CPHIA, which is scheduled to take place in Lusaka, Zambia from 27-30 November 2023.
CPHIA provides a platform for leaders across the continent to reflect on lessons learned in health and science, and agree on a way forward for creating more resilient health systems.
African researchers, policymakers and stakeholders will also have the opportunity at the gathering to share perspectives and research findings in public health, with the objective of strengthening scientific collaboration and innovation across the continent.
According to the CPHIA 2023 organizing committee, the journalism fellowship is a recognition of the “significant role” the media plays in global health, from reporting on public health emergencies and challenges, to getting public health messages to the communities, improving accountability and breaking down policies as well as sharing new research and innovations. It said the fellows were chosen based on their compelling submissions and commitment to elevating public health reporting on the continent.
Mr Cham, a career health journalist and co-founder of ManoReporters, is also the head of the Health Reporters Network Sierra Leone (HRN-SL), the umbrella body of all health reporters in the country. He also heads the Kombra Media Network (KMN), which is the media arm of the FOCUS 1000 affiliated grassroots community based organization called Kombra Network.
Cham was shortlisted from among 800 journalists, according to the selection committee, which said that the selected fellows were drawn from 30 countries across the continent. Cham said he was grateful for the opportunity and expressed appreciation for the AU’s recognition of the important role of the media in public health.
“As a reporter, this is very important to me. Also, as an editor and head of HRN-SL, a lot more journalists stand to benefit from my experience in this fellowship,” said Mr Cham.
The CPHIA Journalism Fellowship builds on the Media Fellowship Programme introduced in the first edition of the conference in 2021, when Africa based journalists were supported to cover the event. It continued with the second edition, which was the first in-person event, in 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda.
“The CPHIA Journalism Fellowship Programme was borne out of the desire to build a network of specialist health reporters that understand the importance of public health communications, which we believe will improve coverage of health issues in African media,” said Dr Benjamin Djoudalbaye, Head of Policy, Health Diplomacy and Communication at Africa CDC.
Prof. Margaret Gyapong, Director, Institute of Health Research in Ghana, and Co-chair of CPHIA 2023, is hopeful for an improved public health reportage in Africa.
“We are extremely proud to kickstart the CPHIA Journalism Fellowship Programme and to welcome our inaugural fellows. I implore the fellows to utilise the opportunity the fellowship will provide them to develop skills and networks that will advance their work, improve coverage of public health issues across the continent, and help us achieve the new public health order,” she said in a statement.
The fellowship will last for a period of five months (October 2023 to February 2024), during which the fellows will undergo both virtual and in-person training based on a multifaceted curriculum blending the intersection of public health and journalism. They will also receive extensive mentorship from seasoned journalists and media professionals to enhance their skills with innovative story telling techniques and conference journalism strategies.
The programme specifically entails scientific writing and communication skills, participation in conference sessions, gaining first-hand knowledge of health challenges and innovations on the continent, interact with leading stakeholders in the health sector, and provide in-depth reportage of new research findings, scientific breakthroughs, and key takeaways from CPHIA 2023.
Prior to next week’s conference in Lusaka, the fellows underwent two virtual sessions on two of five training modules.
Juanita Williams, Managing Editor of AllAfrica.com, is one of the programme’s trainers. She said it was designed to provide critical skills to the fellows through a combination of training, mentorship, and on-the-ground experience.
AllAfrica.com, a Pan-African news media platform, is one of the official media partners for the conference.
“We have taken into account the needs and challenges of public health reporting on the continent, and have developed the fellowship curriculum to address the gaps and challenges that many health reporters face. We look forward to undergoing this journey with the fellows and supporting them during and after the fellowship,” said Williams.