Best journalists pose with their trophies during the inaugural East Africa Media on NCDs Awards, held in Kampala on March 5th, 2021.

Enhancing media’s capacity to create awareness and champion the NCDs agenda in East Africa

The EANCDA has awarded the best journalists in the region in its inaugural East Africa Media on NCDs Awards, aimed at recognizing the role played by journalists/reporters in championing NCDs and driving the NCD agenda through covering and reporting on NCDs trends in East Africa. The awards also aim at strengthening the East Africa Journalists Network and empowering journalists to continue championing NCDs issues. At the first ever awards ceremony held on 5th March, 2021 at Hotel Africana, in Kampala, Uganda, Ms Aidah Munzatsi of Krik TV of Kenya emerged the best TV journalist, while Ms Agnes Kyotalengeire of The New Vision (Uganda) was declared the best Print journalist. Mr Davis Ddungu of CBS FM (Uganda) scooped the best Radio journalist accolade, while Ms. Lydia Atieno of The New Times (Rwanda) emerged the best online journalist. Six other journalists also won national awards for their respective countries of Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Zanzibar.

Dr. Charles Oyo Akiya, the Commissioner for the NCDs Department in Uganda’s Ministry of Health, was the chief guest.

Best East Africa NCDs Journalist (Print, TV, Radio and Online)

Aidah MunzatsiKrik TVKenyaBest East Africa NCDs Journalist (TV)
Agnes KyotolengerireThe New VisionUgandaBest East Africa NCDs Journalist (Print)
Davis DdunguCBS FMUgandaBest East Africa NCDs Journalist (Radio)
Lydia AtienoThe New TimesRwandaBest East Africa NCDs Journalist (online)
Egide NdayiragijeNderagakura RadioBurundiBest Journalist at National Level
Veronica Mrema RomwaldJamvri La HabariTanzaniaBest Journalist at National Level
Abdalla PanduZinjibar TV OnlineZanzibarBest Journalist at National Level
Pauline UngajiNews IndepthKenyaBest Journalist at National Level
Lynn KomugishaUrban TelevisionUgandaBest Journalist at National Level
Rosine UmurungiIsango Star TelevisionRwandaBest Journalist at National Level

Engaging Media in NCDs Advocacy

Since its inception, NCD Alliance East Africa has been striving for an East African Region that is free from Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). The organization has undertaken combined efforts to combat the NCD epidemic by putting NCDs at the centre of all East African health and development policies through targeted advocacy, programmatic work and outreach.

NCD Alliance East Africa has also emphasized awareness creation and advocacy as effective tools to pass on messages and to reach out to intended publics.  The need to enhance public outreach on NCDs prevention, management and control has been the organization’s number one priority hence incorporating media as a tool for advocacy and awareness creation.

A reflection on the activities of previous years indicates that most Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in East Africa and Africa as a region, have majorly depended on medical practitioners and advocates for NCD advocacy and awareness creation. One of the challenges with this approach was that medical professionals who are the main advocates, were not well-equipped to communicate the issues and the science behind NCDs in a style that is simple, appealing and understood by the masses or ordinary citizens.

Thus, the conversations on NCDs in general remained largely technical with complex jargon and limited space for raising voices of People Living with NCDs.

In addition, the current COVID 19 situation with its immense impact has created a wider gap on how public receive and send information; stressing media as a stronger tool of communication and advocacy and as a major source of information among NCD CSOs at national, regional and global levels.

Why media in NCDS advocacy

Media thrives on attention-grabbing and personal stories. It mastered the art of developing emotionally compelling stories with a humanistic perspective. Media has the power to inform a large sections of the population in a variety of accessible ways (Oronje et al, 2011). It also has the power to change perceptions and contribute to social and behavior change by setting the agenda and focusing public interest on a particular issue (Happer and Philo 2013). There is therefore a great potential for media impact and an opportunity to raise public consciousness because NCDs are becoming an emotive public issue due to the fearsome nature and increasing rampancy of the diseases in East Africa.

As Oronje (et al 2011) notes, media has powerful potential to impact on awareness and advocacy if engaged in a planned way.  However, the media lacks the capacity to digest medical information and the motivation to run health-related stories.  Most journalists are always struggling to find interesting content to publish on NCDs and health generally. To bridge this gap, a systematic and sustained mutual capacity development effort was organized to train journalists on how to tell NCD stories as well as developing interesting media content by converting NCD discourses into compelling personal experiences of PLWNCDs. The training sessions also focused on building mutual relationships between journalists, advocates, experts and People Living with NCDs. NCD advocates were also trained to articulate NCD issues in a simple and attractive way for public communication.

Major achievements

Capacity Development workshops: NCD Alliance East Africa has built the capacity of 150 journalists within the East African Region to tell compelling stories on NCDs. The trainings were geared towards enhancing media knowledge on NCDs and other related health issues; understanding the role of Governments in prevention and management of NCDs as well as strengthening media relations with key stakeholders. The trainings also introduced media to NCDs research and information and other related issues such as; Universal Health Coverage, Infectious Diseases (HIV and COVID- 19), nutrition, and climate change. They also highlighted the bigger information gaps that limit journalists to write and report on accountability process, policies formulation and resource base and political perspectives on NCDs prevention and control.

Increase in media output – A noticeable increase in information circulation on NCDs among the publics was realized. This was achieved through vibrant conversations and engagements that were held on TV and Radio stations and other respective media platforms.

This is summarized below:

Indicator between July 2020-November 2021TargetAchievement%achieved against target
Number of news articles30Over 100
Number of guest appearances1035270%
Op-ed newspaper commentary305167%
Number of NCD themed TV and radio content0205250%
Number of Special features on PLWNCDs0515140%

Building an East Africa Journalists Network on NCDs: A concrete East African Journalist Network on NCDs was developed with a data base of 35 journalists so far, from the six Member Alliances. The purpose of the network is to: improve media content on NCDs and other related health issues with a focus on having in-depth and well-balanced analyses; ensuring that enough space and airtime is allocated to NCDs content, reflect on the social responsibility role of media in holding Governments accountable to citizens; and last but not least, prioritizing stories and lived experiences of People Living with NCDs

Documentation lived experiences of PLWCDS: Media amplified the voices of PLWNCDs with the aim of tasking policy makers to priorities NCD prevention and control. Special features on circumstances under which PLWNCDs live, the health care conditions, access to medication and the Governments’ responses towards NCDs prevention and Control have been documented and published.

Development of sustainable media programmes on NCDs: Several programs such as the physical fitness show in Rwanda has been initiated and incorporated in the regular operations of four media houses (radio and TV). In the same spirit, more content has been developed and incorporated into the different TV and radio programs. Programmes including; Health Nuggets in Kenya, Mwasuze Mutya (NTV) and Ebyo’bulamu (Radio Simba) in Uganda have led to strong conversations on NCDs.

Breaking the Language-communication barrier: In the East African region, 99% of the communication materials produced on NCDs are communicated or written in official languages (English and French). This has been one of the key barriers to information access and reach because the largest portion of the population in the region is more comfortable with local dialects. In addition, there has not been any efforts to translate and repackage the scientific NCDs information into simple formats that are easily understandable by the public.    However, media has been handy in toning down the complex scientific language, repackaging the information in a manner that is attractive to the audience without distorting its meaning. With its ability to communicate using some of the local languages, the media has ensured that messages reach the intended targets. The main local languages that have been used include; Kiswahili, Kinyarwanda, Luganda, and Kirundi.

What are some of the challenges met?

In the pursuit of enhancing media advocacy for NCDs, strict political and operative environment of media houses that are driven by business and profit was the biggest challenge. Another critical challenge was the multi-linguistic nature of the region with very limited usage of the major official languages. Most communities prefer to communicate in local languages, which means that in a country like Uganda with over 50 languages, reaching the population is still a serious challenge. The NCDs network has not fully embraced the communications world, hence access to information and other relevant documents is also a big challenge.

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