A Shining Example

Feb 22010

An award from the Minister of Health is just one prize for Daily Mail's malaria reporting, as journalists see rates of the disease drop.

Malaria was the answer to a trick question a reporter here asked me when I arrived:

What's the biggest killer here? She thought I would never guess, because while HIV makes the newspaper regularly here, you don't see so much about malaria.

I knew the answer because someone had told me the unfortunate conundrum: the most prevalent disease wasn't being covered because as all the journalists had had it, it didn't seem like news.

The Zambia Daily Mail reporters I've worked with this year though took a different view, and together we showed it was the kind of news they could cover best, because they know it.

One tracked down a woman from church who gets malaria several times each rainy season and has learned to act quickly when she recognizes the symptoms.

Another went from pharmacy to pharmacy, proving what she knew from experience: that you can buy the prescription medicine used to treat malaria over the counter, a problem that could lead to drug resistance.

Another, just returned from maternity leave, described the course of preventive anti-malaria treatment expectant mothers take here -- and that she had just completed herself.

The reporters found enough stories to fill five days of full color pages that appeared in October, and on Friday, they had the pleasure of hearing their work called "a shining example" of media vigilance that has lowered the prevalence of malaria in Zambia.

The Minister of Health recognized Daily Mail staff and management on national television Friday for its malaria series and gave them a plaque that I hope will hang in the newsroom and remind them of what they can do.

But the real reward of the evening was the recognition of their purpose and their power, as they saw that when the profile of a preventable disease goes up, the prevalence goes down.