Sierra Leone
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Politico trains 50 journalists on Zoonotic reporting

A group of journalists at the training

By Ishmael Dumbuya

Free Media Group, publishers of Politico Newspaper, has on Wednesday 30th August 2023 ended a 3-day training for 50 journalists on reporting Zoonotic diseases.

 The training took place at the Council of Churches Sierra Leone (CCSL) Hall, Kingharman Road, Freetown.

Delivering his keynote address, Professor Aiah Gbakima, a Medical Research Scientist, stated that animals provide many benefits to people. “Many people interact with animals in their daily lives, both at home and away from home,” he said, adding that however, animals can sometimes carry harmful germs that can spread among people and cause illness known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses.

He went on to state that Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi and that the germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illness and even death.

Animals can sometimes appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick, depending on the zoonotic disease.

Professor Gbakima noted that the media has an important role to play in reporting Zoonotic diseases and that journalists should give the audience the correct meaning of words they will frequently hear and read.

He urged reporters to use straightforward and accurate explanations that are not alarming, noting that journalists should develop relationships with trusted scientists as sources.

According to the Team Leader, STOP Spillover Sierra Leone, Dr. Edward Magbity, as human-wildlife contact increases and humans and wildlife live in closer proximity, whether through habitat encroachment or poaching new zoonotic pathogens are bound to emerge.

He mentioned that over the last decades, the risk of spillover of the pathogens into the human population has rapidly increased, driven by land-use change such as deforestation, the wildlife trade and wild meat consumption, climate change and the intensification of industrial animal agriculture.

Dr. Magbity explained that spillover is when a disease crosses from one species to another, adding that a disease, like COVID-19, can ‘spill’ from one species to another.

“Zoonotic diseases tend to spill over in places where humans and animals are in close contact, such as the eating of bush meats or areas where wild animals have encroached on human civilization due to loss of habitat, emphasizing the One Health concept,” he said

He concluded that according to series of researches they undertook, Ebola was likely transmitted from primates to humans through hunting, trading and eating of bush meats, a research initially proven by scientists.

Shedding light on the One Health Concept, Stella Paul, stated that the initiative is an approach that recognises that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and the shared environment.

She said One Health is not new, but it has become more important in recent years.

“This is because many factors have changed interactions between people, animals, plants, and our environment.Human populations are growing and expanding into new geographic areas. As a result, more people live in close contact with wild and domestic animals, both livestock and pets. Animals play an important role in our lives, whether for food, fiber, livelihoods, travel, sport, education, or companionship. Close contact with animals and their environments provides more opportunities for diseases to pass between animals and people,” she noted.

She added that journalists and media organizations in Sierra Leone and other third world countries are well positioned to report zoonotic diseases, but are often limited by factors such as lack of information, and accurate data, as well as the expertise to interpret them resulting in reports that are not informative enough and at times lack accuracy.

Participants were taken to a field trip at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary where they were privileged to see different chimps, focusing on their state of living and interactions, and upon their return to CCSL, they reflected on the field trip, explained what they saw, what they liked, what they learnt, and what else they were expecting to meet at the sanctuary.

The training climaxed with Isaac Massaquoi, a Media Trainer, who highlighted the techniques of reporting, fact checking and accurate reporting.

Participants also embarked on a group exercise wherein they were urged to develop story ideas on Zoonotic diseases and One Health.

The training attracted different facilitators from the Health Ministry, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ministry of Agriculture, and a feminist representative.