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No, Maseno University lecturer did not discover malaria vaccine

The Daily Nation last week published an advert that was a lie. Ironically, the paper previously ran a correct account of the matter. Does the left hand at the Nation not know what the right hand is doing?

“Congratulations to Dr. Walter Otieno,” a quarter-page advert on the Nation said November 10 on page 13. The detail read, “Dr. Walter Otieno of Maseno University develops the first ever malaria vaccine. The vaccine is approved by World Health Organization (WHO).”

It’s okay at this point for eyes to pop out.

What, a Kenyan scientist discovered a malaria vaccine? Why is this gigantic news in a paid advert and not a front-page headline in every newspaper on the land? Heck, why is it not the headline in all newspapers in the world?

Rule of thumb: if it stinks, it’s probably rotten.

First, a quick Google search of malaria vaccine brings up the story across the world. Meaning that, yes, it’s big.

“First Malaria Vaccine Approved by W.H.O.” – New York Times, October 6, 2021. “Malaria vaccine “will change African lives forever’” – BBC, April 23, 2021. (Don’t ask if malaria attacks only Africans.) “World’s First Malaria Vaccine approved by WHO” – NDTV, October 7, 2021. Many more headlines confirm the story is out there.

Second, and here’s the problem, none mentions a Dr. Otieno. Why? Because, as the Nation correctly wrote in its version of the story on October 14, titled, “Kenyan doctor at centre of ground-breaking malaria vaccine,” Dr. Otieno “participated in the vaccine pilot study as the principal investigator in Kisumu […].”

There’s a sea of difference between a participant or principal investigator and a discoverer. The Nation stepped on its own foot by publishing a false advert that claimed the latter.

Well, should newspapers correct a paid advert? The Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya says at Clause 23 says that editors have responsibility for all published content, including adverts.

There’s a small disclaimer: media may disclaim responsibility. But they must explicitly say so. The Nation did not offer a disclaimer. Meaning, on a matter of great public interest, this was an unfortunate lapse in gatekeeping.

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