Home-grown health reporting ups the ante

  • Kim Johnson - 9 July 2013

By considering what the WHO’s early HIV treatment recommendation means specifically in terms of South Africa’s HIV treatment programme The Times goes beyond just relaying information.

Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s proposal that HIV treatment be initiated at a CD4 count of 500—up from 350 as specified by the previous guidelines—barely made it onto the media’s radar.

Among the smattering of online coverage which marked the occasion, The Times was the only print media publication to feature a report on the WHO’s landmark recommendation. 

The daily went further than simply making the issue news. By featuring a home-grown piece over a syndicated report, The Times considered the effects of the recommendations, specifically as they apply to South Africa. 

In the era of the shrinking newsroom, publications rely more heavily on short syndicated reports from news wires and services to fill the gaps between what are considered to be bigger more newsworthy stories.

And suffice to say, post the Mbeki-regime when conflict drove HIV into the headlines, HIV’s news value has dropped considerably, making it more of a space-filler than a heavy weight headliner.

Although The Times didn’t launch HIV into the headlines this time, its report went against the grain using comment from multiple sources to explore the pros and cons of the earlier initiation of HIV treatment in South Africa.

This included considering the WHO recommendation in the context of ongoing ARV stock outs, which are beginning to raise mild panic among activists, healthcare professionals and people living with HIV.

Initiating HIV treatment at a CD4 count of 500 heralds a change in HIV treatment that would have unique implications within the South African context, and the weight of these implications is best communicated through reports tailored to the South African setting.

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“The WHO's recommendation heralds a change in HIV treatment that would have unique implications within the South African context”