Global Health Reporting: Expertise Matters: For Three Years Global Health Fellows Have Been a Part of Each Nieman Class, and the Great Value Rendered by Their Study and Subsequent Reporting Is Measurable

By Giles, Bob | Nieman Reports, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
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Global Health Reporting: Expertise Matters: For Three Years Global Health Fellows Have Been a Part of Each Nieman Class, and the Great Value Rendered by Their Study and Subsequent Reporting Is Measurable


Giles, Bob, Nieman Reports


Diminished resources in newspaper and broadcast I newsrooms are weakening the ability of journalists to report on the spread of disease as well as the dire consequences of poorly funded public health systems and corporate malfeasance. Also diminished is the capacity of news organizations to hold accountable those charged with delivering public and foundation money to people in need.

Without independent reporting on global health issues, the public and policymakers have less of a chance of obtaining reliable information about the effectiveness of treatments and whether rural clinics and vaccination programs are reaching those they should. Without investigative reporting, our understanding of the key roles government leaders, global trade policies and agricultural practices, pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners play in a variety of health issues is diminished.

So when we discover the enormous value that a dogged and skilled journalist can bring to covering such a story it reminds us why independent reporting on global health is so critical today. Margie Mason is such a reporter. Based in Vietnam, she is a medical writer for The Associated Press (AP) and was one of the three Nieman Fellows in the 2009 class to specialize in global health. The terms of her fellowship--supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation--enabled her to develop an intensive reporting project during her time at Harvard. The project she settled on was drug resistance, a global health problem affecting the developing and the developed world--for when humans develop resistance to drugs used to treat diseases, then illnesses return and spread, some of them with deadly consequence.

Working with AP colleague Martha Mendoza, Mason devoted her post-Nieman fieldwork to this investigation. Mason traveled extensively to places where drugs were confronting major resistance. She explored how doctors are losing ground in treating malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and staph infections and how the use of antibiotics in agriculture contributes to the problem. The two reporters delivered a groundbreaking series published late last year. Their stories moved on The AP wire and received extensive play in newspapers and TV stations in the United States and throughout the world. Papers developed follow-up stories and, weeks later, the series was still running in print editions. Several members of Congress have expressed interest in developing policy responses to the problems described in the stories.

In another example, Harro Albrecht, a global health fellow from Germany in the 2007 Nieman class, used his fellowship to take a comprehensive look at the growing industry of international aid targeted at health issues.

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Global Health Reporting: Expertise Matters: For Three Years Global Health Fellows Have Been a Part of Each Nieman Class, and the Great Value Rendered by Their Study and Subsequent Reporting Is Measurable
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