Thank you to Tamzin for babysitting the blog while I was 'working' (if it's hugely enjoyable does it count as work?) in South Africa. My colleague Gareth Mitchell (science broadcaster and fellow lecturer at Imperial College) and I gave two 2-day workshops to South African journalists and journalism students on science reporting. There are particular challenges facing health journalists in particular in Sub-Saharan Africa, most worryingly the contradictory messages given out by the government on HIV/Aids. It was clear that journalists feel a responsiblity to raise awareness and for the press to have an educative function here, but it is very tricky when (1) the public have been 'numbed' by unrelenting bad-news coverage, and (2) it is all too easy to alienate valuable government sources if the press appear too critical. There are no easy answers here, but the whole journalistic scenario on this issue serves as an exemplar for the way in which politics and science cannot be separated from one another.
We realised that UK science journalists have a relatively comfortable time here whereas in South Africa there is no press-release culture to speak of and scientists are often reluctant to speak to the media, automatically fearing a 'stitch up'. The South African Association for S&T Advancement (SAASTA) -- who invited us -- is working to remedy the situation.
I spent a couple of days in Grahamstown and was bemused and somewhat concerned to find an advertisement in my B&B: 'The Dr. of strong spirits is in town: Dr. Gonza'. Dr Gonza claims 'It's high time to change your Dr. for proper treatment ... I have strong herbs for Aids patients on symptoms and old people's illness etc.' Then follows a numbered list, Chinese-menu-like, of conditions Dr Gonza claims to be able to use strong spiritual powers to heal. These include Tuberculosis, Education, Demand debts, Promotion at work and exam pass, Chase somebody away, To be liked by your husband/wife, To erect in full volume (penis), Lack of energy/week, Lover to come back willingly, Cancer, and Avoid alcoholism.
It's thought that 75% of rural populations in Africa consult a traditional healer in preference to western medicine. This paper by Peter-Rhaina Gwokoto is a thought-provoking contribution to the positive effects that convergence and cooperation between ethnomedicine and Western medical practices.