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mdr-tb, tb, the new age
When reporting on health issues like HIV and TB, it is necessary to drive home the importance of the issue at hand

Communicating the ‘why’ helps readers identify

Kim Johnson & Maxine Birch

8 August 2013

An article in The New Age brings critical advances in TB diagnostics to the fore but is somewhat unsuccessful in communicating ‘the why’ of the story, or the importance of the issue, to the reader.

Last week an article in The New Age (30 July 2013) effectively communicated the important role that Tuberculosis (TB) diagnostics play in curbing the spread of the disease and the benefits of the new GeneXpert technology.

However the crucial ‘why’, which conveys the significance of these advancements to the reader, is left to the end of the article.

The GeneXpert technology replaces the traditional testing method of examining sputum under a microscope to detect the TB bacteria. The technology is also able to detect drug resistant TB and cuts turn-around time on test results down from weeks to just three hours. This allows for speedy initiation of treatment and less patients being lost to follow-up, ultimately addressing the spread of TB and highly virulent strains of TB.

Using the vignette of a woman who has the disease the article demonstrates the challenging reality that TB patients face and the significance of improving TB diagnostics.

While humanising coverage can help to drive home certain issues and certainly helps readers to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, using the broader society-wide impact of TB to illustrate why this advancement in TB testing is so important might have made a stronger case.

Readers could actually feel less connected to the issue when reading an individual’s personal story. While they might ‘feel sorry’ for the person and have empathy for them, the issue might appear as isolated and something that happens to somebody else—to other people.   

Showing readers how TB affects their society as a whole brings the issue closer to home, because they recognise that if their community or society is being affected, as members of that society they might feel the effects too.

Although the story does address the broader impact of TB, making it clear that without quicker more effective diagnosis people could be “walking around and infecting others”, it leaves this important factor lingering at the end of the somewhat lengthy piece.

When reporting on health issues like HIV and TB, it is necessary to drive home the importance of the issue at hand with a ‘why’ which helps readers identify with the story.

This often requires illustrating how a communicable condition has a broader impact at societal level because readers who have never experienced TB or who are not living with HIV cannot immediately identify with someone’s personal experience.

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