Each week, frayintermedia highlights a journalist doing good work on the continent and honours them as our ,#FaveOfTheWeek. Meet Kenyan award-winning health journalist and storyteller Elizabeth Merab who is passionate about telling science-based stories that simplify technical language making the material more accessible to both professionals and the public.
Q: How did you become a journalist?
A: It was a chance that I was given because in my undergraduate I studied a different course. I did literature and English so you can imagine that is a bit off from journalism. But I later got to train in journalism at postgraduate level. I then got a chance to be an intern at Nation Media Group where I still work. And from then on, it has just been a journey of telling people’s stories, telling them in a responsible manner.
Q: What draws you to health reporting, what does it mean for you to be putting such stories out?
A: I always say that I am a patient first before I am a journalist. It stems from my health and physical wellbeing. This is one thing that I have not talked about openly but it is a major driving factor in the stories or the topic of specialisation that I’ve taken, which is health science journalism.
Growing up, I had a medical condition. I still have the medical condition and I always found myself too inquisitive. My doctors would always say: “Merab, you ask so many questions,”.
The medical profession, just like law, has a lot of jargon. So when you’re a patient and you do not understand what your body is going through, what medication you are being given and how to communicate to the doctor what you’re feeling, that creates a barrier on the access and the quality of care that the patient receives.
That was the genesis of me delving into health reporting. Of course when I came on board at Nation, the first thing that I did was to look for courses or training that could open up my mind to understand what goes on in the health sector. It was no longer about just telling my story, but it was telling the stories of patients and telling the stories of doctors.
Now, how do you do that responsibly? how do you do that in a manner that it communicates to the population? Also, how do you do that in a way that can change or impact on policies? So, those are the key things that are a driving force. I want people to know that they have rights. Rights that they can exercise and exercise responsibly.
I want to change policy and improve policy in my country so that the health system is stronger than when I was a patient, a younger patient not in the newsroom.
Q: What stories should African journalists be telling more?
A: Of course, I have a bias for health and science, so I’ll readily say that African journalists should cover more health and science stories because this is an area that has been underreported, compared to politics or business reporting or even agriculture. Health reporting has not been such a great area of focus until COVID-19 happened and overnight, everyone became a health journalist and health stories were more prominent in our news coverage. African journalists have a great responsibility and power within their pens to change and impact the whole health system in Africa.
We want to see more equipment in our hospitals, we want to talk about our manufacturing capabilities so that we are able to see and say that we can manufacture vaccines without relying on the West. This is so that situations like the ongoing vaccine apartheid can be addressed.
I think it’s time for us to consciously tell these stories, not only to highlight the issues that are there in our health system, but also talk about the solutions that we can offer. This can be done through the articles we write and the articles that we publish. I think the change starts with me and it goes on with you.
So, at the end of the day, it’s about playing our little role in improving this whole massive health system.
Q: Despite all the challenges in the profession, why do you continue to be a journalist?
A: I would say it’s about the excitement of waking up to do a different thing every day because the story that you covered yesterday, today, has progressed. So, it’s a different challenge every day that I get to conquer. I get to do something different every day, compared to, maybe somebody who’s always in the office doing the same thing repeatedly 24/7.
The second reason why I continue to be a journalist is that I feel that there are so many health stories that are yet to be done and that are yet to be told. I would like to continue being a journalist so that these stories have a space to be published and these stories have a place for interaction with the public and audiences.