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When journalism is at the service of Covid-19 elite

Everyone is looking for any scrap of information that sheds light on Covid-19, which continues to be a global nightmare. Information is important to enable people understand the pandemic and the choices they have to make to stay safe or seek treatment if they fall ill.

On March 23, NTV Tonight carried an exclusive report on what an isolation ward looks like. Persons who are unwell or suspected to have coronavirus are placed in isolation wards.

All major hospitals have set aside these wards, as news reports have shown since March 13 when the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in Kenya. Naturally, many people wonder what exactly an isolation ward is.

News anchor Mark Masai introduced the story. “If you have ever wondered what an isolation room for a Covid-19 patient looks like and the steps it would take to treat a patient, in this exclusive footage Anita Nkonge shows us just that.”

Anita’s story was about an isolation ward at the Aga Khan University Hospital, one of the most expensive private hospitals in Kenya. Only a tiny fraction of viewers watching NTV that night might seek admission at Aga Khan if they contracted Covid-19.

The majority would be placed in isolation wards at public hospitals. What do those ones look like? The NTV story was unhelpful on that. The report addressed the elite.

What about testing for Covid-19, how is it done? Again, this is something that everyone would like to know. The test is done at Kenyatta National Hospital, Mbagathi Hospital and at Kenya Medical Research Institute centres.

On April 2, Citizen TV carried an explainer on testing for Covid-19. But the story by Yvonne Okwara was not about any of the public testing facilities. It was about Pathologists Lancet Kenya, a private health institution.

Why are journalists not telling their audiences what is going on at public isolation centres and testing facilities? That is where the majority of Kenyans who contract coronavirus will end up. Very few citizens can afford private services. What really is the point of highlighting those?

On March 17, Prof Lukoye Atwoli of Moi University Medical School posted on Facebook details of Kenya’s public isolation facilities. He wrote:

“I am told that a few of you who have experienced the isolation facilities at KNH and Mbagathi are complaining that the services there are below par. The loos are not as clean as you’d like, and the beds are a tad uncomfortable.

“I understand that the facilities may also be facing periodic water shortages. Above all, I’m told that they don’t have sufficient number of doctors or nursing staff to take care of everyone. This is all true.

“But: This is the health system you built for us. We’ve made too much noise about it, mostly in vain. So please understand. Those facilities you are complaining about are probably among the best in this country. Trust me. Or not. Go see for yourselves.”

Could this be the reason NTV and Citizen TV chose to show their viewers glitzy private facilities instead of the squalid public ones?

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