HealthToolbox will help write health stories faster

The launch, this week of the a HealthToolbox that aims to connect local journalists to researchers, increase the speed of accessing information and its bearers on demand, is to me, a dream come true.

Having been a middleman between scientists, communication officers and of course science journalists for almost a decade and still counting, I really look forward to seeing this noble idea take root, transform science reporting and bring scientists close to the consumers of their toil – the common man.

Even as the launch nears with each passing day, the partners in the project are still developing a database of communication officers working in health research institutions who will act as the link to the institutes. The communication officers will benefit from this web based tool as they will be key in helping journalists to source accurate and timely information from health experts from their research institutes.

Developers of the tool are working on the premise that at times local journalists may be unaware of key research results publications  of public interest or they may altogether not know of research being carried out – a gap that this tool, with partnership from the communication officers, seeks to fill.

I believe that this digital solution will provide support to communication officers and researchers to connect to credible local journalists, and vice versa as well as support journalists to accurately and, in a timely manner, highlight research centres scientific knowledge and expertise. Besides, it will monitor emerging projects and issues in the targeted regions.

HealthToolbox is a simple and easily accessible digital environment which will increase the accessibility and uptake of data and knowledge from health related scientific research, and link up local journalists to the wider science-health research community.

It will be available in English and in French as well as be responsive for Android and IOS smart phones, tablets (2G, 3G, 4G) and websites. Its contents will also be accessible offline. It will enable journalists to easily access and report using credible science information and data and visualization tools.

What is more? That a resource centre will cover basic data on infectious diseases, including 11 factsheets covering basic facts on Infectious Diseases (ID) such as Ebola, Hepatitis C, malaria and pandemic influenza. Others includes yellow fever, Avian flu, MERS SRAS and tuberculosis – will just make this tool a must use by writers. Besides, information on AIDS, ZIKA, Measles and Dengue will also be presented. Currently the team is also considering inclusion of global health modules on dementia, vaccines and AMR.

Each factsheet will contain basic ID information that every journalist needs to know, including causes, symptoms, mortality, transmission routes, epidemiology, drugs, vaccines, etc. The available information will be easily understandable for people without any scientific or medical background, explaining difficult concepts and avoiding jargon as much as possible.

Each sheet will follow the same structure: What is the ID? What are the symptoms? How does it spread? How is it treated? How can it be prevented? What’s the long-term outlook? The fact sheets will also provide links to reliable resources among others.

As I end, I must say that I am a very delighted soul to have been involved in this tool. I urge journalists to take advantage of this tool and shorten the time it takes to do a story since the experts will be available at the press of the nearest button.

Partners in the project include the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Johnson & Johnson, Concordia University, On Our Radar, CREO and MESHA.

by Daniel Aghan,  MESHA Secretary, Kenya