Health Should Dominate Online Discussions Ahead 2015 Elections – ICFJ

On 05/Feb/2014 / In Medical News

The International Centre for Journalists has urged Nigerians to direct their energies towards the discussion and analysis of issues concerning health care delivery on various social platforms, as the 2015 general elections draw near.
The non-profit and professional organisation based in Washington DC, United States, advises that as attention is focused on prospective candidates in the media, especially on social media, the topics of political debates should revolve around health issues.
ICFJ Vice-President (Programmes), Patrick Butler; and Senior Programme Director, Jerri Eddings, in an interview with iPUNCH, explain that the organisation is introducing a project themed “Hala Nigeria: Many Voices, Better Lives,” aimed at increasing public engagement, as well as amplifying the voices of citizens in health news in the country.
According to them, five Knight International Journalism Fellows will be pooling their expertise together to lead a digital innovation and offer hands-on training, workshops and seminars, with a view to spurring citizen engagement in areas of health care service delivery.
They said the project is designed to help Nigerians to learn how to find, analyse and visualise data, while health journalists are also equipped with the tools and resources they need to improve their coverage of health issues.
“We know that this is an election year and there will be heavy focus on politics. Right now I think that is going to be the big story this year. It is the main issue everybody focuses on. But health and health services delivery are very important. Health issues can be election issues, too.
“Politics is just about who gets elected. What about what they are going to do when they get elected? So we are hoping that one of the issues they talk about is the issue that concerns Nigerians, such as the urgent need to pay attention to health,” Eddings said.
According to them, health journalists, citizen journalists, members of civil society organisations and other stakeholders will be encouraged and shown how to leverage on digital tools to discover and explore public data on health care delivery in the country.
Eddings said that apart from stimulating public discussion, the objective of the project is to make ordinary citizens become aware of the prevalent rate of diseases, location of clinics and the availability of health specialists, as well as the location of training institutes for doctors and nurses and such kinds of data that will be helpful to them.
“A lot of new media tools are available, some of which have been used in other parts of Africa, and we will be developing some tools here. But, one important aspect of the project is data journalism.
“Over the past year and half, experts in this field have deployed new tools in using data, new platforms for engaging citizens and new ways for people to access information about health services, doctors and other medical specialists online with cell phones. That is why we will be looking at the deployment of applications and other online platforms in this project. We will be training ordinary Nigerians in citizen journalism and the use of available tools,” she added.
Butler said  that the project would be taking advantage of Nigeria’s new open data movement – Open Data Development Initiative –  which aims at enabling access to public data- by “organising public events around key health issues and engaging citizen journalists to extend coverage to neglected regions.”
He said active bloggers with huge online following will be contacted, while call-in shows on radio and television will be encouraged to promote citizen engagement in health issues.
He explained that four of the five members of the team assigned to work full-time would be based in Nigeria, while the fifth member would be working part-time on the project, which is expected to last all year round and beyond.
He listed tech enthusiast, Oluseun Onigbinde; health journalist, Declan Okpaleke; multimedia journalist, Babatunde Akpeji, and media consultant, Cece Fadope, as the four Nigerian Knight Fellows working on the ‘Hala Nigeria project’-  funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He noted that Justin Arenstein, who is based in South Africa, would be working part-time from South Africa and offer technical support as the projects’ digital strategist.
“While Onigbinde will act as the project’s lead innovator creating and adapting digital tools to enhance public engagement, Okpalaeke will serve as the lead editorial strategist and media trainer. Akpeji will work on bringing about a vibrant citizen journalist network for the project. Fadope is billed to organise public events, such as town hall meetings in collaboration with media organisations and other partners,”  Butler said.

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