African Science Journalists emphasise the need to simplify COVID-19 jargon

African Journalists have called on the simplification of jargons and data related to COVID-19 and vaccination and termed medical terminologies as a major hindrance to effective media reporting on COVID-19 and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

“African Science Journalists raised concerns about some terms and phrases used by scientists and experts, as being incomprehensible to journalists and much less  the common public. This was during an ongoing series of regional training for journalists on science reporting and fact-checking health information organised by UNESCO Addis Liaison Office to the AU and UNECA, the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Africa Centre, the fact-checking organisation Africacheck/Trifacts and the African Editors Forum.

Speaking during the training sessions which aims at strengthening journalists’ capabilities to unpack COVID-19 and NCDs terminology into easier-to-understand context specific terms, Hope Mfarang, the Assistant Regional Director at the New Vison Uganda, highlighted the need for simplified terminologies. “In addressing COVID-19 and Non-Communicable Diseases, instead of telling the audience about positivity rate, you could perhaps tell them of the number that have turned positive. Rather than say cardio arrest, just tell them heart attack and stroke, instead of saying cataract we can say is the process of one losing their eyesight and finally not being able to see. This is what journalists understand and are able to report”, said Mfarang.

In the breakout sessions that are part of the training, the groups of journalists were unanimous in recommending the following: Simplification of terminology used to publicly communicate information about COVID-19, vaccination and non-communicable diseases. They further called on the health experts in Africa and other stakeholders to put in place a glossary of COVID-19 and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) terminologies, stressing the need for an African glossary of terminologies, which will be useful for the different sub-regions, communities and policy makers, to ensure journalists comprehend what is communicated, and in a much-simplified language.

Other challenges faced by journalists in some African countries that were highlighted includes lack of information on how to access institutional information relevant to COVID-19 and NCD by community media. to the effective management and cure of these adverse health conditions and makes more people vulnerable to COVID-19. This was also noted by Ms Emebet Wuhib- Mutungi, Senior Advisor, Health and Gender, BBC Media Action while speaking at the opening session.  “Media and health professionals should work together to provide timely, clear and consistent information with prior learning of the basics about COVID-19 and its link with NCDs” said  Ms Mutungi.

This regional activity is within the framework of the EU-funded project  #CoronavirusFacts, Addressing the ‘Disinfodemic on COVID-19 and  UNESCO Multi-donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists. This joint effort between UNESCO, science, fact-checkers and media partners in Africa, is aimed at strengthening capacities of media professionals to report on COVID-19, improve the access of media professionals to verified information on COVID-19 as well as empower African citizens to debunk misinformation, stop spreading rumors on the epidemic and to counter discrimination and hate against those with COVID-19. The subsequent five trainings will be focusing on balancing science stories, offering journalists the penchant to always be analytical and interpretive when they are provided with bundles of information.