Archive for June, 2009

Issues here noted here — and afar




Club Risky Business: HIV Prevention finally comes home?

By Mannasseh Phiri


LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — On the evening of Tuesday 16th June, the corridors leading to Ster Kinekor Cinema at Arcades were dressed for the Oscars – red carpet, lights, TV cameras to boot. The people – especially the women – walking the red carpet were dressed for the Oscars. The long colourful gowns were out.


The occasion was the launch of the TV mini-series called CLUB Risky Business – by the National AIDS Council, the Ministry of Health and donor funded agencies like Society for Family Health (SFH), Health Communications Partnership (HCP) and Zambia Centre for Communications Partnerships (ZCCP).


Club Risky Business is only one part and the beginning of a multimedia campaign called onelove – kwasila! – aimed at reducing the spread of HIV infections through multiple concurrent sexual partnerships (MCP).  It will air on ZNBC three times a week (one episode repeated) Monday, Wednesday and Fridays at 19:45 hrs and Muvi TV on Tuesdays at 21:30 and Saturdays at 19:00.


We have known since the beginning of the HIV epidemic in Zambia that HIV infections spread through the risky business of sex – especially risky unprotected sex with casual partners. As a result there have been many donor driven programmes to address and try to reduce risk ridden sexual behaviour.


More recently, and as we have come to know and understand our own HIV epidemic better, we have come to understand that what we have regarded as risky sexual behaviour is risky still, but it doesn’t make as significant a contribution to new HIV infections as what we have always regarded as ‘non-risky’ sexual behaviour. Sex in marriages and in regular long-lasting relationships has not, till recently, been regarded as risky business. Now we know that a much more significant number of new infections is taking place in marriages and other regular long term sexual relationships.


We have been concentrating our time, resources and attention in the wrong direction. No wonder new infections have continued so many years into the epidemic and despite all that is being done.


The story of Club Risky Business is centred on three ordinary everyday Zambian men, the women in their lives, their sexual behaviour, and a wise old barman called Sam, in a club (Club Risky Business) that they frequent and pour out their troubles and woes. Sam gives advice – and narrates their stories to the TV audience asking questions of the audience. It is clever and compelling TV, the likes of which we have not seen in Zambia before.


Club Risky Business brings the reality of the impact of multiple concurrent partnerships on people’s lives and on the direction of Zambia’s HIV epidemic.  It is not preachy or moralistic. It just tells the story of Zambian men and women in a way that every adult seeing the series will identify with – without embarrassment.


Finally in Zambia, we have HIV prevention being brought down from boardrooms and conference halls, from corridors of ministries and donor agencies – into where it belongs, and that is where most HIV infections take place – our homes. Finally the frank and open national conversation around HIV that those of us in HIV work have called for can begin to happen.


HIV Prevention has finally come home – our homes.

Mannasseh Phiri, M.D.
Chief Service Officer
Centre for Infectious Disease Research In Zambia (CIDRZ)

Mannasseh Phiri, M.D., is an HIV and AIDS activist, broadcaster and writer.

Researchers, Reporters Find Common Ground in Zambia’s Tuberculosis Epidemic . . .
LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — With at least 800 people out of every 100,000 living with tuberculosis in Lusaka alone, stories of this once-conquered disease surround us — everywhere except in the local news reports. And with the 7th highest rate of incidence of TB among HIV-positive people worldwide serving as a sign that a serious threat to public health is not being addressed where it can do the most harm, Zambia’s TB epidemic should be in the news.


That was the need that a joint Panos Relay, TARGETS AND ZAMBART workshop sought to address this week bringing researchers together with reporters to explore stories and the challenges to telling them.

The Wednesday and Thursday get-together at the Cresta Golfview Hotel included opportunities for journalists to talk off the record with researchers, and find common ground for what essentially can be a fruitful collaboration.
But you don’t need to have spent two days in a hotel conference room to reap the benefits of this event. For information on how to link with researchers who can help you tell Zambia’s TB stories contact:

  • Gillies Kasongo at Panos:
  • Justin O’Brien at ZAMBART:
  • Alexandra Hyde at TARGET:

Maternal health a human right . . .

With the Human Rights Council acknowledging that maternal mortality is a human rights issue, this is a great peg for a story on efforts to address the high rates of childbirth-related deaths in Zambia.


Another missing link in Zambia’s HIV response . . .

Problems addressing the link between HIV and injecting drug use are noted in Zambia’s midterm strategy report, so this mention in Lancet is timely,


A Resource, Language, Reporting Contest . . .


A Celebration . . .

Getachew Bekele, Senior Advisor, Marie Stopes International

Getachew Bekele, Senior Advisor, Marie Stopes International

Family planning and reproductive health organization Marie Stopes International celebrated its first year in Zambia with an official launch, outlining its vision for its future work at the Taj Pamodzi Thursday. Ministry of Health spokesman Reuben Mbwewe was there to talk about the government’s interest in addressing unsafe abortions.

The organization, which provides a wide range of clinical services, is a gold mine for important newsworthy stories on sexually transmitted diseases, developments in contraception, male circumcision, infertility, access to safe abortion and cervical cancer, Zambia’s No. 1 cancer killer. Staffers will connect journalists with medical experts on to address myths and facts on these topics as well as clients willing to share the first hand experiences that bring stories to life.

Women waiting in the MSI outreach clinic in Chililalila. Kabwe, Zambia.

Women waiting in the MSI outreach clinic in Chililalila. Kabwe, Zambia.

For information contact:

Alex Lemay,, tel: 0977948583

Weekend health

What’s in a name? A lot, Daily Mail journalist points out . . .

On Friday, the Daily Mail‘s “AIDS Matters” column once again gave another perspective, with a contribution from journalist and AIDS counselor Charles Chisala. The Times and Daily Mail AIDS columns have both done well in serving as a place for dialogue as well as commentary — with the Times running Chisala’s remarks last week, and the Daily Mail column, by Justin Mwiinga of the the National AIDS Column running responses to matters raised earlier.

In this contribution, Chisala eloquently raised on an important point — and raised the bar on thinking about what you write — with his comments on the use of the word “prostitute” to label women whose lack of resources puts them in the line of danger. The word as it is used in that context he points out is demeaning, dehumanizing, alienating and inaccurate.

“These women and girls have been forced into commercial sex work by circumstances created by the same society that is, through the media, stigmatising them,” Chisala wrote. “At a personal level, they are unable to confront the cruel system that has left them with nothing but their bodies to cling to for survival.”

Good thinking produces outstanding writing, this contribution shows, and Mwiinga deserves praise for providing the ongoing platform for thought-provoking dialogue.
It is on page 9 of Friday, June 5’s Daily Mail. And, in recognition of Chisala’s point, HealthWriter has added “prostitute” to the Health Desk bad word list. As always, you are invited to submit your own — printable — contributions to the list.

Environmental journalism contest:

Someone asked me recently if a story about an environmental issue counts as a health story. The answer is that environment is more often than not, at the root of factors that affect every aspect of health. Climate change, it has been noted, will affect where, how, and why populations will be exposed to both disease and essential resources. An upcoming contest will give journalists a chance to learn more.

The wave of the future brings cell phones and health tracking together

It sounds futuristic, but even while communities confront the basics of clean water and sanitation, cell phones can provide answers in today’s epidemics.

We use the word, but do we know what it means?

This New York Times article explores the struggle to define “pandemic.”

An Answer Makes the Health News


Times highlights story of virus identification

Imagine how you would feel if you came to the end of a mystery novel  and discovered the last two pages were missing. That is where readers have stood since they followed the case of the Lusaka woman who fell  mortally ill and and apparently infected four health care workers as she was airlifted to Johannesburg last fall. All but one of the five patients who caught the virus  died,  and while the high fever and hemmoraging that were part of the illness suggested ebola, it was not. Until Friday, when a medical journal broke the story of how the virus was identified, however, we did not know what it was.

The Times rightly put the story of the solution to the mystery of the virus on the front page Monday.

Named the “Lujo” virus (for its deadly path from Lusaka to Johannesburg) the illness is remarkable, both for the swiftness with which it killed those exposed to it, and for the relative speed with which it was identified. Both its origin and its identification are news, and good health reporting seeks to answer the questions that it raises. That way when questions are ignored, we know it.

Knowing your epidemic

Responding to HIV where it is doing the most damage is essential to winning the quarter-century fight to prevent transmission and get treatment to those who need it, but countries are only now discovering they don’t know what they need to target resources effectively, this UNAIDS report notes. They are seeing the need to follow evidence — as presented in their local data — rather than a universal mold.

The report illustrates, once again, the importance of efforts by people who know local conditions.

Which is important here because according to the link, Zambia’s look at its AIDS epidemic is on the way  . . .

Impact of the Global Economic crisis on Africa

Zambia is one of the countries that stands to be most affected by the worldwide credit crunch and resulting fallout, according to the report cited here. This is a timely issue in light of the recent withdrawal of donor money  in the wake of the multi-billion-K scandal of disappearing funds at the Ministry of Health — not to mention in light of the missing money itself. It would be interesting to follow what the donor money paid for, as well as what the missing money was meant to pay for.

And speaking of telling the story of your own country . . .

Among the links on the side are recommended reading — books to either inform or inspire good health reporting. Most recently added is Chinua Achebe’s Home and Exile – – a reminder that today’s story  is tomorrow’s history, and that the story is best told by those who live in its midst.

Please send in suggestions for additions to recommend reading or to any of the links.