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Transforming media coverage of nutrition in Kenya

By Titus Mung’ou

Group work during a media training workshopAt the time of writing, Titus Mung’ou was the Advocacy and Communications Manager at Action Against Hunger (ACF) and the outgoing Chair of Kenya’s Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance (SUN CSA). He holds a degree in Education (Arts), Postgraduate Diploma in Mass Communication, Masters in Communication Studies, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Communications Studies at the University of Nairobi.

Location: Kenya

What we know: Kenya joined the SUN Movement in November 2012. While Kenya is on course to meet all the World Health Assembly maternal and child nutrition targets, malnutrition remains a significant public health problem.

What this article adds: In Kenya, the SUN Civil Society Alliance (SUN CSA) has engaged in targeted and innovative advocacy to elevate the status of nutrition in government structures, mainstream nutrition as a multi-sector development agenda, and increase nutrition resources (budgets and nutritionists). SUN CSA activities have included development of county-integrated development plans and budgets, nutrition position papers, and establishment of a network of nutrition-interest journalists. Workshops have sensitised political leaders, civil servants, nutrition stakeholders and journalists on their role in SUN. Advocacy impact has included development of specific budgets lines for nutrition programmes in county plans, more county nutritionists employed, more quality media coverage on nutrition issues, including the Global Nutrition Report 2015 launch, and commitment of high-level nutrition champions.

Kenya joined the global movement for Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) in November 2012, thereby committing to addressing malnutrition at scale in a multi-sector approach. To date, Kenya has established six SUN networks, namely Government, United Nations, Donor, Business, Civil Society and Academia. These are harnessing various efforts to meet SUN Movement objectives. The Global Nutrition Report 2015 recognised Kenya as the only country on course to meet the 2025 World Health Assembly (WHA) targets. It notes: “Nearly every country (70 of the 74 for which data exist) is on course to meet at least one of the five global targets. This breadth of performance is good news. However, only one country (Kenya) is on course to meet all five WHA maternal and child nutrition targets, and only four (Colombia, Ghana, Vanuatu, and Vietnam) are on course to meet four targets.” (Global Nutrition Report 2015).

Country situation

Kenya faces the double burden of malnutrition: undernutrition (i.e. stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies) and overnutrition (i.e. overweight and obesity). Although prevalence of undernutrition (and often associated infectious diseases) remains high, there is a considerable concurrent rise in overweight and obesity rates (and associated non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs)). While some progress has been made over the last years in reducing stunting, the vast majority of regions are still not on course. Currently 26% of children under five years of age are stunted and 11% are underweight, while 4% are wasted. Stunting rates are similar for boys and girls; however there are regional disparities, with the highest level of stunting being in West Pokot, Kitui and Kilifi. Stunting remains more prevalent in the poorest households, although it still exists in the richest.

The estimated number of children under five who are overweight is growing rapidly; the current obesity prevalence is 4.6%. One third (33%) of women of reproductive age are overweight. According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 (KDHS 2014), overweight increases with household wealth. Being overweight and obese are considerable risk factors for NCDs such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Micronutrient deficiencies (including vitamin A, iron, iodine, zinc and folic acid) are common among women and children, and ensuring adequate micronutrient status in women of reproductive age, pregnant women and children improves the health of expectant mothers and the growth, development and survival of their children.

Mobilising civil societies

The SUN Civil Society Alliance (SUN CSA) has three main issues in focus: advocacy to elevate the status of nutrition in government structures, mainstreaming nutrition as a multi-sector development agenda, and increased nutrition resources (budgets and nutritionists). Two years after its establishment, the SUN CSA has mobilised 44 organisations at national level and 30 others at county level to join the network and advocate for scaling up nutrition. Most CSA members are non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs), working in humanitarian, human rights, education, health, consumer and women’s empowerment sectors.

Over the last year, members of SUN CSA have been involved in the development and review of county-integrated development plans and budgets, with a specific focus on health and nutrition components. Kenya’s 2010 Constitution established 47 counties, which are responsible for policy decisions and allocation of resources to institutions in their jurisdiction. Following continual advocacy by SUN CSA and partners, at least five counties have created specific budget lines for nutrition programmes and employed more nutritionists in the 2015/16 financial year. The counties are Baringo, Taita Taveta, Kajiado, West Pokot, Wajir and Mandera.

The CSA has developed and presented six position papers on various nutrition issues. These include the Draft Kenya Health Policy 2014-2030 and Health Bill 2014; identified and sensitised over six county nutrition champions. The network is supporting the SUN Government Focal Point and nutrition sector actors to disseminate the National Nutrition Action Plan, develop County Nutrition Action Plans and a national Nutrition Advocacy, Communications and Social Mobilisation Strategy. These activities are vital in promoting the country’s nutrition agenda.

With support from the SUN Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF), Population Reference Bureau (PRB), ACTION Global Health Advocacy Partnerships and individual members, SUN CSA has conducted 11 nutrition advocacy trainings and workshops in nine counties. The workshops have served as platforms to sensitise political leaders, civil servants, nutrition stakeholders and journalists on their role in SUN.

Nutrition visibility in the media

The goal of SUN CSA is to place nutrition on both the media and political agendas in order to increase funds for nutrition and to mobilise communities to embrace good nutrition practices. In Kenya, the role of the media in influencing policy decisions on health and nutrition is very important. Through the media, the public is sensitised on good nutrition, malnutrition cases, benefits of eating locally produced nutritious foods, exclusive breastfeeding and baby-friendly facilities, among other issues. Members of Kenya’s SUN CSA support the Ministry of Health to ensure media coverage of nutrition events (almost 100 per cent media coverage), with some participating in media talk shows and discussions on topical issues.

Although the impact of the media on nutrition policies and achievement of WHA targets has not been studied, the catalytic role of the media in six counties targeted by SUN CSA resulted in more allocation of resources to nutrition. Sustained media advocacy and press articles on the need for more funds for nutrition was undertaken during the budgeting process, thereby influencing key decision-makers to act. Due to limited funds for media advocacy, sensitisation of journalists in the remaining 41 counties of the country remains a tall order, but is necessary to build capacity to push on key nutrition issues. Using local media benefits and influences both the public and the decision-makers who rely on the stations for their daily news.

Building capacity of journalists

Informed by recommendations from previous media workshops, SUN CSA organised national and county-level media trainings targeting journalists specialising in health and nutrition reporting. The aims were to sensitise journalists on nutrition programmes in Kenya and their role in SUN, to build journalists’ capacity to report nutrition stories, and to strengthen the relationship between media practitioners and nutrition experts.

A national media workshop conducted by SUN CSA in February 2015 brought together nine journalists and three Community Health Workers (CHWs) from Nairobi and Embu counties. The journalists were drawn from the Nation Media Group, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, Standard Group, Science Africa and freelancers. Topics covered included introduction to the SUN Movement; Kenya’s nutrition landscape and nutrition policy framework; and nutrition as a media agenda. The facilitators were drawn from the SUN CSA and Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA). Subsequently, with evidence and recommendations from media workshops conducted at the national and county levels, SUN CSA trained more than 25 journalists based in rural areas on nutrition reporting in May 2015. While a science reporters’ network in Kenya exists, most journalists in the network do not have the skills to cover nutrition activities. Thus the key outcome of the SUN CSA county nutrition advocacy workshop in May 2015 was the establishment of a network of journalists interested in reporting nutrition stories. Members began a social media group (WhatsApp group: Nutrition Journalists) to share nutrition stories, alert each other on upcoming events and seek comments from experts on technical issues. At least three members of SUN CSA guide discussions on the social media platform.

Key recommendations from the media workshops conducted by SUN CSA include:

Box 1: Links to media articles produced by journalists trained by SUN CSA

Nutrition visibly in the media

A media visibility study conducted by media monitoring firm Reelforge covering the period May 2014-May 2015, commissioned by SUN CSA in June 2015, found that: “Media coverage on nutrition related issues was highest on radio in terms of frequency during the period. This was attributed to the high number of outlets/channels. Television had the highest share of advertising for nutrition products and services value equivalents [value of non-advertisements on nutrition, e.g. news and feature stories, whose value is calculated using advertisement rates] despite a lower number of (nutrition) stories compared to other media types.

Recommendations from the media visibility report included:

Box 2: Sensitising media editors on nutrition

SUN CSA held a media editors’ sensitisation workshop in Nairobi on 19 June 2015. More than 30 editors and senior journalists attended the workshop. Kenya’s SUN Government Focal Point and Head of Nutrition, Gladys Mugambi, and West Pokot County Senator John Lonyangapuo were among the leaders and policy-makers who addressed the media editors’ meeting.

The media workshop followed the release of KDHS 2014, which revealed that 26% of children under five years old were stunted, while wasting was at 4% and underweight at 11%. While acknowledging the challenges facing the nutrition sector, Ms Mugambi was upbeat: Kenya deserves a pat on the back for meeting the Millennium Development Goals target for underweight children, which stands at 11%. She called on various stakeholders and the media to join hands with the government in promoting nutrition awareness: The media has a big role to play in nutrition campaigns. We all know that media advertisements influence the choice of foods in the household.

Launch of Global Nutrition Report 2015

SUN CSA engaged Africa Practice on behalf of SUN networks to support media coverage of the launch of the Global Nutrition Report 2015 in Kenya. Africa Practice drafted the press release, op-ed for newspapers and media tool kit, among other items. The event brought together various stakeholders in Kenya, including politicians and representatives from SUN CSAs in East Africa from Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi. Invitations were coordinated by SUN CSA. SUN CSA members documented and disseminated a report on the launch. Five nutrition-trained journalists from counties supported by SUN CSA were invited to join Nairobi-based journalists to report the launch. Thereafter, various media interviews and talk shows featured nutritionists who disseminated GNR 2015, with wide media coverage including:

Links to some media articles are shown in Box 3.

Box 3: Media articles covering the GNR launch in Kenya

Article in The Star newspaper highlighting the issue of stunting

Politicians and the media agenda

Kenya’s nutrition stakeholders have embarked on the mobilisation of diverse players to integrate nutrition in their programmes and on the sensitisation of political leaders to elevate the status of nutrition and allocate more resources to nutrition programming. These can be achieved by positioning SUN in an office with powers to coordinate other ministries to implement nutrition programmes – the Office of the President.

SUN CSA and partners work closely with politicians to discuss topical issues through the press. A number of national and county leaders are invited to advocacy workshops, where they address specific issues relevant to their counties and make commitments to support efforts to tackle malnutrition. Some politicians and decision-makers often feature in the media discussing nutrition issues during major health events, while others write opinion pieces for the print media. Examples are given in Box 4.

Examples of the impact of such advocacy include:

Box 4: Statements by politicians in support of nutrition

Despite the advances made on the causes of malnutrition and how to address the problem, we have not given nutrition matters enough attention as individuals, planners, leaders and even governments, said the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, who is also the Nutrition Patron, in her opinion article published in The East African newspaper on 6 June 2015 during the launch of the Global Nutrition Report 2014 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Health Committee Hon Stephen Mule is another strong nutrition advocate. In his commentary published in The Standard newspaper of 15 May 2015, Hon Mule called on policy-makers to support nutrition programmes: With devolution in the context of Kenyas constitution, in which 96 per cent of nutrition activities are handled by the county governments, there is even greater need for advocacy in each of the 47 counties to ensure that nutrition is prioritised.

The role of politicians in nutrition advocacy was well-stated by West Pokot County Senator Prof John Lonyangapuo, whose County leads in cases of acute malnutrition (KDHS 2014). Speaking during a SUN CSA media editors’ workshop in Nairobi, the Senator was categorical: “Kenyans listen to their politicians. You should come up with a well-crafted advocacy campaign targeting thousands of politicians, members of county assemblies, MPs, senators and governors. They should be trained on nutrition, while materials such as brochures should be prepared and sent to them to compliment the SUN campaign.

Conclusions

SUN Civil Society Alliance plans to mobilise journalists to join the network of journalists reporting nutrition that was established in May 2015, mobilise resources to strengthen nutrition media advocacy, build capacity of technical staff to work with the media, lobby media editors to create regular nutrition programmes, and identify nutrition champions in the media who will increase the profile of nutrition.

For more information, contact: Titus Mung’ou 

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References

Global Nutrition Report 2015. Synopsis, page 3. 

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Reference this page

Titus Mung’ou (2016). Transforming media coverage of nutrition in Kenya. Field Exchange 52, June 2016. p86. www.ennonline.net/fex/52/mediacoverageofnutritionkenya