Eleanor Namusoke Magongo, MBchB, MMED Pediatrics, Pediatrics Advisor-Management Sciences for Health, STAR-E (Strengthening TB/HIV/AIDS Response in Eastern Uganda) project
In Uganda, there is a growing interest in Health Systems Research (HSR). About 5 years ago, the oldest university, Makerere University, introduced HSR as one of the courses offered at the university. However, despite this growing interest in HSR, there is disappointingly little media attention for HSR. Researchers in Uganda have had a problem trusting the media because on many occasions, the research findings have been misrepresented by the media.
In Uganda, many people will take what is communicated in the media as gospel truth. So if the wrong messages are going around, this leaves a lot to be desired. The media is very key in getting information to the public and more so to the policy makers. So if this is not happening, then there is a very big gap that needs to be addressed because research findings that do not translate into action are more or less put to waste! In the above study, it was noted that of all the published articles reviewed, almost none were related to HSR in Uganda. For those that referred to some research reports, the research was most likely not conducted in Uganda.
Another study, a print media analysis in 44 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Eastern Mediterranean, also revealed that there is little media attention for HSR. This study showed that China and Uganda were among the countries whose media reported the most on HSR. If a country like Uganda that has been noted to hardly report on HSR is recognized as one of the countries with highest reporting on HSR, then one wonders what is happening in the other countries that were part of the study above. To sum it up, if HSR is hardly mentioned in the media, and the little there is, is distorted, then that poses a big challenge that requires urgent attention. There is therefore a need for proactive media engagement strategies to ensure more publications on HSR and publication of correct findings.
Not all hope is gone in Uganda! There is already an effort to establish stronger links between the researchers and the media. As I write this guest editorial, the 6th Annual National Pediatric HIV conference is ongoing and one of the sessions on the last day has been aimed at the media to foster dialogue between the researchers and the media. We are moving in the right direction and this needs to continue!
In conclusion, journalists need to specialize as this will give them more time to focus on one area and they should commit themselves to learning. The linkage between the researchers and the journalists should be strengthened and continuous to overcome the mistrust of the news media that the researchers have and to foster media efficiency in reporting on HSR.