News Reports Detail Lack of Action During Polio Outbreak; Ugandan Government Launches Vaccine Drive
When young children in Uganda suddenly began testing positive for polio in the fall of 2008, Dr. William Mbabazi, a World Health Organization epidemiologist, wanted officials to launch an aggressive vaccine drive. Instead, the government dragged its feet for months while polio cases climbed - until a story appeared in the Daily Monitor, an independent, national newspaper.
Mashoo first met Mbabazi at a health journalism workshop run by Conte. Conte encouraged her to develop Mbabazi as a source. When Mbabazi was ready to speak out about the polio issue, he turned to Mashoo, a reporter he trusted.
“The government’s response was immediate,” said Conte.
With such extensive news coverage, turnout for the vaccine campaign was unusually high, despite wildfires and other disruptive problems. It continued for months. The result: An estimated 6.7 million children in 78 districts were vaccinated, well over the targeted 6.1 million.
"It appears that polio has pretty much been stopped," said Conte.
The World Health Organization agrees. Recently the WHO noted that Uganda had been polio-free for a full year following the outbreak, and officially declared the country to be polio-free once again.
The Knight International Journalism Fellowships are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides additional funding on improving coverage of health and poverty issues in Africa.