Over 50 health editors and senior media professionals from print, electronic and digital media from the states of Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, UP, Gujarat, Odisha, Rajasthan and Delhi along with Government of India representatives and health professionals converged in New Delhi today to deliberate on strategies for greater media engagement in promoting Routine Immunization (RI) of children against deadly childhood diseases.
The conclave marked the culmination of two regional media workshops on RI which were held in Patna and Raipur in September and October as a run-up to the health editors' meet in New Delhi. Over 120 senior media professional had attended the regional workshops.
The Union Health Secretary, Mr Lov Verma inaugurated the one-day meet in the presence of UNICEF Deputy Representative, Mr David McLoughlin, Chief of Health, UNICEF, India, Dr Genevieve Bengkoyian, senior journalist, writer and columnist and member of GAVI Advisory Council, Ms Bachi Karkaria, Managing Trustee, Samyak Foundation, Mr. Rahul Dev, Deputy Commissioner, Universal Immunization Programme, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Dr M.K. Agarwal and Chief, Advocacy and Communication, UNICEF, Ms Caroline den Dulk.
Organized by UNICEF and Samyak Foundation, the key recommendations of the workshop included creating a network of health journalists, increased interface between government, civil society and media and capacity building of government officials on handling and responding to media. All health editors were encouraged to join the online health network created for them.
Media professionals and health specialists discussed during the plenary session challenges and solutions to increasing media coverage on routine immunization. These included how to increase media space; improve quality of coverage; media engagement with social influencers; the use of social media and the role of media during AEFI (Adverse Events Following Immunization).
In his inaugural comments, Union Health Secretary, Mr Lov Verma said, development news has to be presented by the media in creative and impactful ways. He suggested expansion of RI awareness through health quizzes, celebrity tie-ups and dedicated health columns.
A comparative scorecard on IMR, MMR, Polio and RI could also be developed by agencies like UNICEF and the media to evaluate how each of the states was faring. It could be used by the government to develop effective strategies, Mr Verma added.
Dr. M.K. Aggarwal, Deputy Commissioner, UIP, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said media spokesperson guidelines for AEFI have been prepared and will be operationalized. The Union government is working with state governments on how to respond to media queries on RI, he added.
He urged the media to come up with stories from grassroots levels which help implementing agencies in making the delivery system more effective. He said recommendations made at the meet would be implemented by the government. He lauded the commitment of media persons towards responsible health journalism
Bachi Karkaria, well known columnist and Member, GAVI Advisory Council in India: "There is a need for media to be more open and trusting of working with government and other agencies that were implementing programmes to save young lives. Unlike in the case of politics, here it was okay to be on the same side of the fence without being necessarily adversarial.
Ravish Kumar, Senior Executive, Editor NDTV , "The capacities of media persons had to be built both in terms of knowledge and abilities. Being largely TRP driven, their reporters, including those at the helm of the media outlets were not adequately geared to initiate media campaigns on subjects like RI. Therefore, handholding of media and working closely with them, sharing stories and giving them a human perspective was important."
Shipra Mathur, Senior Editor, Rajasthan Patrika, "Eventually all stories emanate from the development aspect. In some way or the other they are all connected to human development and endeavor. And media can make a difference. Low performing areas can be identified and media brought in to work closely with the local government. Their work should be tracked to see if it has yielded results and the same success can then be replicated and scaled up."
Anshuman Tiwari, Editor, India Today, Hindi: "For mainstream professional editors, advocacy tended to dilute the core values of journalism. To retain the latter, it is important for agencies that are in the development and philanthropy space to package their data, findings and other information in ways that retain news value for journalists."
Earlier, welcoming the delegates at the meet, Mr David McLoughlin, Deputy Representatives, UNICEF India, called for responsible health journalism and said that misinformed reporting leads to mistrust of vaccines and drives the needy away. He said media should find ways to create and sustain additional space for coverage of RI.
Dr Genevieve Begkoyian, Chief of Health, UNICEF India, gave an overview of India's Universal Immunisation Programme.Ms Caroline den Dulk, Chief, Advocacy and Communication, UNICEF India, thanked media who have been key partners for the initiative.