Impact story on measles

Jun 62010

Editors Note: A news story set off a nationwide campaign to contain measles which was killing young children in Zambia. A newly employed reporter came to see me a couple of days after she started working. While waiting for a driver to pick her up after she had finished an assignment, she overheard two nurses talking about an increase in measles in children. They were speculating whether there was an outbreak.

She was unsure about how to get verification for the story. We decided to just go straight to the Ministry of Health knowing that we probably would not get a straight answer but went through the motions anyway. We also decided to speak to the district health management team and the country's largest hospital The University Teaching Hospital (UTH). We hit jackpot with both these (but not with the Ministry). Both cautiously confirmed an increase but were reluctant to call it an outbreak.

The Newspaper called it an outbreak though and there was no dispute about that. The first story stated that the outbreak was in Lusaka only, with the UTH recording most of the cases. We bolstered the story with quotes from medical people.

This story is on AllAfrica.com.

A lot of times, reporters believe their work is done after announcing an outbreak, waiting for something to happen. The reporter had to be reminded not to lose the story and to make a follow up. She followed up with the Ministry of Health this time, who had to make some kind of comment since the story was already out in the public domain.

Most likely to keep a lid on the story, the reporter was told that it was no big deal, the outbreak was a normal occurrence because there were always going to be children who missed the boat and would suffer later. We decided to go with that bit of information to keep the story alive.

The reporter was encouraged to keep tabs on the story and hit pay dirt a few days later when it transpired that there were similar occurrences in the region. She wrote another story hinting at a regional outbreak. The local WHO office got interested and began to speak to their colleagues in the Ministry of Health offering help to run a national immunization campaign. Two days later, the Ministry of Health announced a week long immunization campaign. The reporter is keeping tabs on this story.