Front Page Exposé on Shoddy Hospitals Prompts Kenyan Government to Take Action

Jul 272009

Knight Fellow Rachel Jones recently guided a team of reporters at the Daily Nation newspaper in Kenya in producing a series of stories on the poor state of public hospitals. The series had immediate impact: a promise by government officials to spend $7.5 million to tackle overcrowding, poor infrastructure, and lack of staff, equipment and medicine at public health facilities.

Jones, who in July began a year-long Fellowship aimed at improving coverage of health issues in Kenya, saw a report from a parliamentary committee denouncing conditions at hospitals. She suggested that the newspaper investigate the problem. Editors at the newspaper agreed and assigned the story to all five Daily Nation bureaus. "During the editing process, I challenged the reporters to humanize their reporting," Jones says. "Rather than just present a set of facts, or telling readers what conditions were like, I pushed them to show readers by relating real people's experiences."

The package of stories, "Shame of Public Hospitals," was published on the front page of the newspaper's print edition and on its Web site on Sept. 22. By the next day, the Kenya Medical Association had made an official comment calling on the government to address the situation. Two days later, the newspaper reported the government's promise to spend millions to fix the problems, and Jones said she is pushing to make sure that the newspaper does follow-up reporting. "Obviously, such a dramatic and speedy response was gratifying," Jones says. "But the gratitude expressed by several of the reporters involved, who are now eager to receive my coaching and support on future stories, keeps me focused on the enormous impact that this kind of fellowship program can have in the lives of journalists and the public.”