When the media goes home

The malaria threat to Haiti may not be as immediate as the terrible injuries and potential infections from inadequate water and waste disposal. Malaria will be lurking – but will anyone be paying attention when it arises?

Anderson Cooper of CNN was quoted in the New York Times as saying “We all know what’s going to happen. People are just going to lose interest in this as a story. They’re going to stop watching.” Already today the BBC has only one small headline on its world news homepage referring to Haiti and one feature piece far at the bottom of the page.

newspapers-in-kenya.JPGMore importantly, according to the Times, the major news organizations also have ‘money worries’ about the extensive coverage. The costs of coverage, and the boost it gives to donor organization efforts to raise funds, were outlined by the Times as follows: “News outlets rushed to charter airplanes and snap up extra seats on aid flights, but that was the easy part. Upon arrival, they had to establish supply lines, mostly through the neighboring Dominican Republic.”

News executives acknowledge that the media can move in and out of Haiti quickly, but efforts to scale back are already in evidence. One network reported on running out of water for its staff twice.  Overall it was estimated that each news organization would be spending $US 1.5 million on its Haiti coverage.

Well recognized media figures like Dr. Sanjay Gupta have been serving an advocacy role encouraging potential partners to reach difficult areas and provide better quality services.  The Times recognizes the importance of the visual element in this advocacy process.  Will scaled back coverage reduce this advocacy avenue?

Over 150,000 people have been confirmed dead so far in Haiti, and final estimates reach as high as 200,000.  The World Malaria Report still estimates over 800,000 malaria deaths world wide annually. These deaths may not occur in as dramatic a fashion as a natural disaster, but they add up and are still disastrous to families and nations.

The media has been an essential partner in highlighting malaria interventions and progress at all levels, especially as we count down to universal coverage.  We need all partners to ensure that the media spotlight remains on malaria, and especially right now on malaria in Haiti.

As morbidity reduces and we get closer to malaria elimination, this task may become harder – but media advocacy will be needed up to the very end to ensure adequate funding to maintain surveillance and certify elimination even when malaria seems less pressing.

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