World Federation of
Science Journalists

WFSJ's Mentees Attend AIDS Forum in Paris

April 5, 2007 posted in SjCOOP
By V.Morin
Mentees of SjCOOP, the PtoP mentoring program of the World Federation of Science (WFSJ) journalists, attended a two-day forum to brush up on their knowledge of AIDS. The event was organized by the ANRS, l’Agence nationale de recherches sur le Sida et les hépatites virales, and was held in Paris. The initiative of including the WFSJ’s mentees came from Sophie Coisne, the president of the French science journalist association (AJSPI). In all, 25 science journalists, with a majority from French-speaking Africa, attended the meeting which offered concrete knowledge about issues surrounding AIDS. It also presented some of the most advanced research in the field. Six scientists attached to the ANRS gave lectures.

David Ilunga and Jérome Bigirimana

Covering AIDS in Africa is a challenge due to persistent pseudoscience and unfounded beliefs. One of the presenters at the workshop, Brigitte Bazin, who is in charge of services to developing countries at ANRS, explained how to verify the proof of the efficiency of a treatment. Ms Bazin suggested a respectful line of questioning to find out if a treatment was scientifically sound. “It is very important for our African colleagues to understand the scientific process by which proof of a treatment is made,” says Sophie Coisne, also a SjCOOP mentor with the WFSJ.
For instance, it is not rare that herbalists will claim to have found cures against AIDS. In these cases, some of the questions Brigitte Bazin proposed range from whether the herb had been tested, if so, on how many people, and whether the toxicity was known. This information can help the reporter make up his mind on the clinical validity of a treatment while remaining objective and respectful of the person they interview.

Because of the prominence of alternative medicine in Africa, also called traditional medicine for some, journalists covering science in these countries need to know how to report the facts and develop a critical approach towards these claims. ‘It is the first time that I hear such a balanced approach on this very difficult issue presented to reporters,” says Jean-Marc Fleury, executive director of the WFSJ, who has a long track record with the training journalists in developing countries.

Forum organisers also took the opportunity to denounce the fact that most communication about AIDS and Science is done in English. Jean-François Delfraissy, director of ANRS, explained the importance of holding French conferences such as this one: « Les praticiens francophones des pays du Sud sont peu présents dans les congrès internationaux. Il est donc indispensable de mettre en place un pôle d’échange en langue française, avec un poids africain important » (Francophone practitioners from the South don’t participate in international meetings. It is therefore necessary to establish a forum for communicating in French, with a strong African presence
As for Christine Katlama, co-president of the conference, she also expressed her regrets about the lack of communication in French in Science and about HIV: « Si les rencontres internationales dédiées au VIH sont nombreuses, le monde actuel est dominé par l’anglophonie et l’espace de communication pour les francophones reste inadapté et insuffisant. Or, ne pas pouvoir s’exprimer revient à ne pas pouvoir communiquer ni échanger ou partager » (There are many international meetings dedicated to HIV, but where English dominates and the space to communicate in French is inappropriate or insufficient. Then, with no possibility to speak out, one cannot communicate, share or exchange.


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