How can science journalism address disinformation when the world is facing a climate catastrophe? In early October in Dakar, Senegal, 55 science reporters from 21 francophone countries met for a week to discuss this crucial question, share their perspectives, and meet scientists from the region, at the very first World Conference of Francophone Science Journalists[i] – an exciting event that DNDi was honored to join and support.
The theme was ‘Science Journalism in the face of climate emergency’ and one of the many topics discussed was climate-sensitive neglected diseases.
‘In the midst of the climate crisis, science journalism skills are needed more than ever. This is also a lesson of the COVID pandemic. That is why it was so important to get together: we needed these face-to-face, human interactions to share our experiences and techniques,’ said Huma Khamis, scientific reporter from the Swiss public broadcast RTS and co-organizer of the conference.
‘Reporters often have difficulty accessing scientists, notably in West Africa. There is a significant mistrust from the scientific community. It was therefore essential to have scientists from the African continent participating to our conference –and I’m particularly grateful that Dr Digas Ngolo Tete joined the event.’Huma Khamis
Dr Digas is a sleeping sickness expert and Clinical Project Manager at DNDi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the Dakar conference, he hosted a roundtable on ‘Emerging neglected diseases in Africa’ with Dr Xavier Berthet from the Institut Pasteur in Dakar – a fantastic opportunity to explain neglected diseases and introduce to reporters DNDi’s work on sleeping sickness and other neglected diseases.
‘The conference was a huge success’, said Dr Digas. ‘Reporters asked a lot of very relevant questions, with a view of transmitting accurate information about these diseases to their readers. As we start to observe the impact of global warming on health, for example through population displacements and disease vector transmission, I think it is necessary for DNDi to be vocal about the consequences of climate change on neglected diseases.’
During six days, francophone reporters attended scientific conferences and expert panels, workshops to share specific skills and techniques, and debates. Media interviews were organized on the sidelines of the event, such as this RFI Autour de la Question special roundtable on the importance of science journalism in Africa.
The organizers expressed their conviction that international collaborations between reporters from different continents are more necessary than ever to better report on the climate crisis, especially as ‘vulnerable populations are paying the highest price.’ One of the leading organizers, who provided the impetus for the event to happen, is Kossi Balao, award-winning science reporter from Togo and director of the Francophone Forum of the International Center for Journalists.
‘Science journalism is still not fully recognized as a specialty in its own right, especially on the African continent; that is why this conference was so important,’ said Huma Khamis. ‘We will definitely organize more editions in the future!’
[i] Conférence des Journalistes Scientifiques Francophones. Participating countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Guinea, Haiti, Madagascar, Mali, Maroc, Niger, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia.
Photo credit: Conférence des Journalistes Scientifiques Francophones, October 2022