Research Article: Neglected Diseases in the News: A Content Analysis of Recent International Media Coverage Focussing on Leishmaniasis and Trypanosomiasis

Date Published: May 14, 2008

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mangai Balasegaram, Sooria Balasegaram, Denis Malvy, Pascal Millet, Peter J. Hotez

Abstract: BackgroundAlthough the pharmaceutical industry’s “neglect” of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) has been investigated, no study evaluating media coverage of NTDs has been published. Poor media coverage exacerbates the neglect. This study aimed to investigate, describe, and analyse international media coverage of “neglected diseases” in general and three specific NTDs—African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, and Chagas disease—from 1 January 2003 to 1 June 2007.MethodsArchives of 11 leading international, English-language media were searched. A content analysis was done, coding for media organisation, date, author, type of report, slant, themes, and “frames”. Semi-structured interviews with journalists and key informants were conducted for further insight.Principal FindingsOnly 113 articles in a 53-month time period met the inclusion criteria, with no strong trends or increases in coverage. Overall, the BBC had the highest coverage with 20 results, followed by the Financial Times and Agence France Presse. CNN had the least coverage with one result. The term “neglected diseases” had good media currency and “sleeping sickness” was far more widely used than trypanosomiasis. The disease most covered was leishmaniasis and the least covered was Chagas. Academic researchers were most commonly quoted as a main source, while the World Health Organization (WHO) and pharmaceutical industry were the least quoted. Journalists generally agreed NTDs had not been adequately covered, but said a lack of real news development and the need to cater to domestic audiences were major obstacles for NTD reporting. All journalists said health agencies, particularly WHO, were not communicating adequately about the burden of NTDs.ConclusionsPublic health agencies need to raise priority for NTD advocacy. Innovative strategies, such as reporting grants or creating a network of voices, may be needed.

Partial Text: Roughly one in six people globally, mostly the very poor, suffer from one or more NTDs. [1] These diseases may not directly result in high mortality rates, yet cause much morbidity, suffering and poverty. [2] Despite this, NTDs are a low priority for the pharmaceutical industry, lacking safe and effective treatments; are overlooked by mainstream global health efforts, receiving little funding; and are ignored by the media, rarely making headlines. Even public health authorities have downplayed NTDs – often, they are not perceived as health burdens and do not require compulsory reporting. [2]

Electronic databases of selected media were searched for articles with the general term “neglected diseases” or the three NTDs selected from 01 January 2003 – 01 June 2007, a period that covered two years before and after the DNDi 2005 campaign. The quantitative component of the study measured the number and nature of news articles and noted any trends and patterns. A qualitative analysis reviewed the focus and perspectives of articles by identifying themes and “frames” – how issues are presented. The analysis was supplemented by interviewing nine journalists and four key informants on their perspectives of NTDs, news priorities and obstacles to coverage.

During the 53-month study period, 113 articles met the inclusion criteria. There were no strong trends or increases in coverage (see Figure 1). A slight peak was noted in mid-2005 but there was no specific theme tied with this increase, although DNDi’s research appeal campaign calling for greater attention to NTDs in May could have helped generate interest in this area.

This study shows the general lack of coverage of NTDs in the media, with an average of about 10 articles per media organisation in a period of more than four years. By comparison, an unfiltered search for HIV/AIDS on AFP’s database found more than 1,000 articles for the same period. There was a wide disparity in coverage between various media, with results for BBC 20-fold higher than CNN. No events or developments seemed to capture media interest across the board. The “newsworthy” element of NTDs clearly varied between media, ranging from the financial angles used by the FT to the emotive human stories featured in BBC.



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