Mozambique Health Reporters Win Prestigious Award for Best Feature Writing

Mar 242011
  • Knight International Journalism Fellow Mercedes Sayagues (center) congratulates the two award winners, Alves Talala (left) and Salane Muchanga (right).

Two health-related news stories published in Mozambique’s influential weekly Savana have won a prestigious award for best feature reporting in southern Africa. Knight International Journalism Fellow Mercedes Sayagues worked extensively with both young journalists to develop their skills and create strong health coverage in Mozambique.

“Eating Sand” by Salane Muchanga, and “Fainting Spells at Quisse Mavota School: A Conflict of Knowledge” by Alves Talala, share the award for “Best Feature in Southern Africa” in the Gender and Media Awards. The competition is sponsored by regional NGO Gender Links, which conducts research on diversity and equality in newsrooms.

Muchanga’s piece focused on the health risks of women and children who eat sand – a tradition that started among pregnant women trying to increase the amount of iron in their diets. Sand, which often contains dirt and bacteria, is now popular as a snack for women and children in Maputo. Muchanga included analysis of the scientific data on sand as well as the cultural traditions and economic crisis that have encouraged the wide-spread practice.

Talala reported on fainting spells by teenage female students at one high school on the outskirts of Maputo. The school had been built on an old family gravesite. The girls who had fainted said ancestral spirits were angry and wanted a ceremony complete with animal sacrifices to appease them. As the fainting spells continued, Talala detailed the conflict between educators looking for a rational explanation and the panicked community.

One judge noted that both reporters wrote clear, well-developed stories. He also said, “They both report on issues of obvious public interest, in very difficult socio-cultural contexts.”

Sayagues said the two stories, which took weeks of digging, interviewing and writing, were unusual in the Mozambican news environment. “Savana allowed them both the time and the space to do these stories because they understand the importance of solid health reporting,” she said.