Zambian reporter has his own story to tell
He believes that one of the most important health messages to send to readers about the topic of HIV is adherence to Anti Retroviral Drugs (ARVs, which manage the HIV virus). “Everything else is equally important – addressing stigma, encouraging people to go for counselling and testing.”
Stigma around a HIV diagnosis remains a societal barrier in Zambia. “Stigma is causing people to die, because they won’t go for testing,” he says bluntly.
Panos is a non-governmental organisation with a presence in several developing countries. It focuses on trying to ensure “that information is effectively used to foster public debate, pluralism and democracy”. In 2004, Panos established the Network of Journalists Living with HIV.
There are now 700 members, most of them living in sub-Saharan Africa. Ngoma is one of four Zambian members. Zambia used to have five members, but one reporter died last month. This is a private, members-only forum, that provides advice, contacts and support.
Lilian Chigona is the executive director of Lusaka’s Panos office. “The network was established as a way of helping HIV members of the media to help themselves. Self-reflection has to be part of the process,” she explains. “If you are a television presenter in Africa, you’re a celebrity, and you do not necessarily want to publicly state your HIV status.”
HIV positive journalists were not finding their way to access services for themselves even though they were reporting on stories related to the issue. “That’s why the network was set up; a private forum where journalists are free to talk and give each other advice about things like medication,”she says.
Ngoma is aware of how influential local media can be in the way HIV stories are reported, especially those that reduce stigma and encourage more people to come forward for testing.
As a journalist who writes about HIV and is HIV positive, he is also aware of the power of his own perspective in the stories he writes.
Ngoma has not yet written his own personal story for the Times of Zambia, although he is planning to do so. (He agreed to go on the record about his status for this interview with The Irish Times.)
“As people who work in the media, we are role models in society, and we should take the lead and say, ‘Yes, I am living with HIV,’” he says. “We can play our part in a small way, but that small way is one that can have a big effect.”
ROSITA BOLANDand FRANK MILLERwere supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund