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‘New Vision’ story on Kasese missed helpful details

Some sad news from western Uganda. Reports arriving at the desk of the New Vision daily on Sunday, March 24, 2024 indicated some Kasese district residents were sharing their houses with livestock overnight for fear of being stolen. That, according to public health experts, raises the residents’ risk of “contracting zoonotic diseases.”

The warning, according to reporter John B Thawite, was sounded during a one-day meeting called by Trans-cultural Physiological Organisation on March 22, 2024 at Virina Gardens in Kasese municipality.

Kasese district “production co-ordinator” Julius Baluki is quoted as saying the rampant thefts were “frustrating government poverty-eradication initiatives including the much-hyped Parish Development Model (PDM), which is aimed at enriching the last mile Ugandan citizens.”

The livestock husbandry officer for Mpondwe-Lhubiriha town council, Samson Muhindo Mugisha, the newspaper reported, said animals “harbour harmful germs, bacteria, and parasites that can spread to humans, which may cause many illnesses that can turn out [sic] fatal.”

He added: “Much as livestock animals [sic] may look healthy, there are chances that they can have deadly diseases such as Rift Valley fever, rabies, anthrax, and brucellosis.”

Bwera General Hospital medical laboratory technologist, Fredrick Makekera, cautioned Kasese residents against using human drugs to treat animals.

This was an important event that was shoddily reported. With an approximate total area of 31,205 square kilometres, Kasese district is covered by wetlands, water and savannah. Mountainous terrain stands in the north, while flat plains roll out in the region’s southern side, which is why livestock, fishing and commercial farming are the main economic activities for the majority Batoro community.

Local people, most of them not educated, need a lot of relevant information to confront some of their cultural practices that are likely to expose them to personal and public health risks. A close reading of the New Vision story, titled ‘Kasese residents share shelter with livestock over theft fears’ should have been packed with scientific facts from credible sources.

Instead, the story read like minutes of a public meeting, complete with names of who said what, but missing in relevant details to confront the public health fears sounded by the good government officers who addressed the gathering.

Reporter Thawite used the phrase “zoonotic diseases” but failed to offer it a simple meaning: Diseases transmitted from animals to humans, caused by germs such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. He should have also told his readers about some types of the zoonotic diseases, their symptoms, and how to prevent, control and treat them.

The story talked of the ‘Parish Development Model’ but did not explain what exactly it is. Is it a government poverty-beating initiative? What ministry or government department coined it? When? And how do communities qualify to benefit from it? Or is it an all-applying scheme to address social and economic issues in Uganda? In short, the reporter quoted a news source on a strange policy (if at all) and left it at the mercy of the readers’ guesswork.

If it is true that locals have resorted to sharing their rooms with their livestock at night, in what particular areas of Kasese is the practice common? And because the locals are fingering runaway insecurity, how come the story had no comment from the security agencies in the region? What is the government doing to beat the menace to ensure a return to normalcy? Have suspects been arrested over this matter?  Readers weren’t told.

There was a faint attempt at quoting the Bwera General Hospital medical laboratory technologist, Fredrick Makekera, who was never quoted beyond cautioning the public against using human drugs on animals. Yet, this was one official the report should have prodded further to harvest statistics on the levels of zoonotic infections, if at all.

Throughout the story, there is no confirmation of the fears raised by the public officials over the likely outbreak of zoonotic infections, or how to prevent and combat them. Readers were also left hanging on insecurity in Kasese; there were no theft incidents report, no police action indicated.

Lesson learnt? The story suffered from the ‘Cut-and-Paste Syndrome’, the tendency by some lazy reporters to only report verbatim what news sources said without conducting basic research to fully inform and empower readers.

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