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What The Indian Media Keeps Getting Wrong While Reporting Medical News

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It may not be an exaggeration to say that the quality of journalism in India is probably at one of its lowest ebbs today. News channels and print media have become as much a source of entertainment as of delivering facts. Most are run based on vested interests, handicapped by political pressures and personal agendas. When the highlight of journalism becomes an Arnab Goswami screaming till his lungs pop out, and becoming an anchor equally adept at giving back derogatory remarks, the essence of the fact is lost.

A journalist is meant to find out the facts, try to chaff out the ‘masala’ and present it concisely and honestly to the citizens. As such, they harbour a great responsibility because people believe what they report, and hence, it shapes the ideas, beliefs and biases of the masses. They invariably play a significant hand in charting the future course of the economy and the democracy.

Unfortunately, the quality of journalism has gravely deteriorated over the past few decades. It has become immensely difficult to determine what to believe and what to shun. Construed facts and even blatant lies are often reported without a pinch, as long as it ensures exceptional TRPs. This pertains to all walks of life and professional domains and especially so in healthcare.

Healthcare is a very sensitive and specialised field where the margin for error is often far lesser than anywhere else. Rarely is there a greater need for accuracy and precision than in this profession. It’s a rapidly evolving field that is in a constant flux. What is new today, might be old news tomorrow. To understand and report on this is, therefore, no easy task. So the media must be given the benefit of the doubt. But that said, they must also strive to at least get the facts right and ensure responsible reporting.

Allahabad Jagran: No Glargo Coma Scale was found in the hospital. This Test is performed to check head injuries.

A recent example is the so-called “Glargo Coma Scale” that the Allahabad Jagran reported missing from hospitals. There exists no such thing. There is a scoring method called ‘Glasgow Coma Scale’ which is based on a practical method for first responders to measure the extent of head injuries. Such reportage is highly dangerous, for it can incite public outcry and even violence. Incidents like a colleague brutally killing another by slitting his throat and stabbing him gain little traction on media, but things like supposed aliens abducting cows do. Doctors and health professionals suffering acts of violence by agitated attendants and mobs have become common. A new video clip surfaces every few days from all parts of the country. The government has actively tried to curb such incidences but with little results to show.

The media, obviously under political pressure, has been guilty of under-reporting acts of violence and hooliganism by several small-time politicians over healthcare professionals. For instance, the incident at a Kanpur medical college a few years back when the students were beaten up inside the hostel premises. It took the temporary suspension of elective medical services in the city and state to garner enough traction and attention.

The death of over 50 children at the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur was widely reported to be due to an acute shortage of oxygen supply but later, the government claimed it to be caused by an encephalitis outbreak. In the wake of the initial reporting, there were several sackings and resignations of key personnel at the hospital to appease the public. A situation that could have been handled much better and investigated a lot more carefully, had the callous reporting not led to such an uproar from the community.

While at the same time many articles are published publicising/ criticising certain individuals or institutions without having their facts in place. The reputation of a healthcare professional or a body once tarnished is impossible to redeem. It’s a service with its whole foundation based on one thing – trust. Once the trust is gone, everything over and above eventually collapses.

What the media has not realised is that irresponsible reporting has led to the erosion of the healthcare public relations. This has resulted in the development of mistrust and an air of scorn around each other. Not all of this is baseless – but callously equating a rotten few with all healthcare professionals is just unacceptable. The government should have checks in place that call for greater accountability for what is reported.

The media/newspapers could also at least have a healthcare professional as an editor to avoid grave misreporting of basic facts. A greater emphasis has to be made on not just reporting an incident but also an apt and succinct analysis of the situation. Leaving things open to interpretation by the public with half-cooked facts is a dangerous recipe which will only culminate with disaster. Journalism is a potent tool and if wielded wisely will lead to the betterment of one and all.

I am an optimist, and I imagine a perfect world where things are balanced, and the world lives in harmony. Such expectations might never be met, but an attempt must nevertheless be made. Unless we try, we shall never know.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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