Rachel Jones is a renowned US based Knight Health Fellow who used her past experience that was characterized by lack of access to health facilities, as a stepping stone to determine her career that is focused on promoting health for all.
The sunday Times’ IRENE V. NAMBI caught up with her during her visit to the country last week to learn about her experience and her work here in Rwanda.
Question: Would you please briefly tell us about yourself and what you do?
RJ: I am a 47 year old media consultant with the International Centre for Journalists which is based in the United States of America, Washington DC. My specialty is Health reporting and basically I am focused on increasing access to health care.
Question: How long have you been in this field?
RJ: It’s been two decades now. I started out as a freelancer with a News paper called Clear Water in Florida then I moved to St. Petersburg Time where I mainly covered features and some bits on police.
Here I learnt the difference between hard news and expanding hard news. I later worked for Detroit Knight Redder news but from 1998 to 2007 I moved to the National Public Radio.
As a radio reporter I specifically focused on access of health care to children of the poor, exploring why the poor minority in the USA were having high disease rates especially the African Americans and Latinos among others.
Question: Why do you have a great interest in health reporting other than any other field?
RJ: Back in the USA, I grew up in a small town called Cairo. We were a very poor family of 10 children that I did not manage to see a doctor until I was 16 years old. Despite the fact that we live in a powerful state access to health care was impossible due to lack of affordability.
When I grew up and started reporting, this further strengthened my commitment to cover health issues because I believe that everyone has a right to health care.
My past therefore influenced my future. In Africa, access to health is also constrained by poverty and in many countries politics is what matters.
It is sad to know that the aspect of giving life is the most dangerous situation of staying alive!
To me the basic aspect of a good quality of life and staying alive should be the most important issue than politics.
Question: As you train journalists, you have moved to various countries like Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda and finally Rwanda. After a week of imparting skills how do you rate the Rwandan media with regard to health reporting?
RJ: What I have learnt about Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, it already shows that there’s plenty of what to exploit and interpret by journalists in a bid to influence health policies and inform the public of the existing interventions.
The grand vision or goal to create a workforce of energetic, enthusiastic journalists still stands but so far, the work I have seen in some publications like The New Times is very impressive for example, coverage on the cornea transplantation, malnutrition and others.
Question: Any goals?
RJ: As a woman, I try to mentor and be a role model for young African female journalists so they can have an attitude of not giving up.
I think reporters in African countries have so many challenges and in most cases may have no opportunity to analyse and present some issues so I see myself as one who must continue to ignite this.