WHA66: The Mysterious Case of the Missing Mainstream Media Rebecca Megson
My headline could have read “Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) says ‘NO! I don’t talk to the media.’”
A bit of a mouthful admittedly, though that was her response when approached by colleague and fellow journalist Xun Lu at the Sixty-Sixth World Health Assembly (WHA66) held in Geneva in May. Was the response of the Director General perhaps indicative of the WHOs attitude towards the press I wondered?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) holds an annual assembly in which delegations from the 194 member states attend to discuss and define the global health agenda. Health ministers, foreign affairs and finance ministers congregate in one spot to discuss global health care. Their discussions impact the global health market believed to be worth more than 5.5 Trillion USD.
Above all, their discussions impact you and me.
As we have seen in recent years diseases do not recognise state borders. Pandemics are a reality. Our ability to respond and protect ourselves is under threat as antibiotic and other first line drugs become increasingly redundant. So, given the size and clout of the participants, the dollar value of the market and the very real life-and-death impact on all of us, where are all the mainstream journalists at the WHA66?
Attending as part of a new initiative Who’s there? Yes (WTY) on the role of journalism and public health as public goods led by the UK-based World Health Communication Associates (WHCA) and Switzerland-based CSDconsulting, newly graduated journalism student Lindsay Gill (@SciCommOok) and I querried the press locally and virtually via twitter on the subject.
Jason Anthony Tetro (@JATetro) Huffington Post writer said “some member states don’t want to have the public arena there lest it becomes a circus #scicomm”.
The Guardian Development Professionals Network (@GdnGlobalDevPro) said there were a couple of reasons why they didn’t attend, including having not been pitched to attend by the WHO.
Jennifer Yang (@jyangstar), Global Heath correspondent for the Toronto Star, felt that the WHA66 was a lot about process, which makes the subject harder to digest and to dig out the really newsworthy stories. That said her position as Global Health correspondent is one of a handful of new global beats the Toronto Star has set up in an effort to garner readership beyond Toronto, capitalising on the reach the internet provides. For the Toronto Star global health issues are clearly important enough to salary a reporter – a significant indicator in economically challenging times. Google ‘66th World Health Assembly news’ and you’ll find an article by China news, a copy and paste of the WHO press release by Reuters and potentially some Africa news and Lancet references.
The World Health Assembly then really is one of the world’s best-kept secrets.
Ms. Megson was part of a workshop called Who’s there? Yes (WTY) on the role of journalism and public health as public goods organised on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly (WHA), May 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland.