A radio station once dedicated an hour to honour a veteran journalist who was going on retirement.
Admirers and well-wishers called the station to share their stories of his great works and how the journalist changed their lives. Some people, who tuned in after the introduction of the show had been made, started circulating a false rumour that the journalist had actually died.
When people were hearing glowing and wonderful stories about the journalist, they concluded that he must have died. Wrong assumption, but understandable. We hardly ever talk about the good that people do when they’re still alive.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health issued a media statement saying: “The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, will this evening receive two prestigious Kochon Prizes. He will receive the first prize in his individual capacity for his role and political leadership in the fight against tuberculosis globally.
“The second prize, which he will share with the Right Honourable Nick Herbert, MP in the UK, will be in their capacity as co-chairs of the Global TB Caucus of members of parliament from all over the world. The Kochon Prize is awarded annually to individuals and organisations that have made a significant contribution to combating TB either in their countries or globally.
The statement was largely ignored by the media. When I asked a journalist friend why the media had ignored what was in my view a great and historic development, he responded that the media release was essentially about good news, and good news does not sell.
I remember an incident in June this year at the SA TB Conference in Durban, when a South African television reporter approached me for a comment. He asked me what South Africa could learn from other countries in the fight against TB.
I advised the journalist that the right question to ask was actually “What can the world learn from South Africa in the fight against TB?” He was visibly disappointed, stopped the interview immediately and walked away.
We are told that the media is a mirror of society, that it reflects all, good and bad. But why is it that it appears to thrive on the bad and generally ignores the good?
The Kochon Prize awarded to Motsoaledi is a big matter. The Kochon Prize was established in 2006 in honour of the late Chong-Kun Lee, founder of the Chong Kun Dang Pharmaceutical Corporation and Kochon Foundation in South Korea. Lee was committed throughout his career to improving access to low-cost lifesaving antibiotics and anti-TB drugs.
The 2018 prize is awarded to outstanding political leaders who are reinvigorating, driving change and taking bold actions to end TB.
People were invited to nominate exceptional political TB leaders via an online platform. The nominator was also invited to submit letter(s) of support. Some of the nominators said of Motsoaledi;
“Through Dr Motsoaledi’s formidable leadership South Africa has made numerous significant contributions that sparked the TB community’s optimism that TB can be ended and that have resulted in landmark policy change.”
“In the same year, South Africa also moved rapidly to decentralise DR-TB treatment, taking a person-centred and human rights-based approach, which has been associated with improved patient outcomes and reduced costs for all.”
The world may have recognised the minister for his leadership in the fight against TB, but he has done much more. He had been exceptional in the fight against HIV/Aids.
When he took over as minister of health in 2009, fewer than 900 000 people were on antiretroviral treatment. That number has increased to more than 4.2million people in 2018.
In 2004, more than 70 000 babies were born HIV-positive annually, but with his leadership to provide prevention of mother-to-child transmission, that figure has come down to about 4 000 this year.
He is now leading a campaign to have millions of people tested for HIV, and the plan is to put 2 million more people on treatment. As more people get treatment, the healthcare infrastructure will be fully stretched.
No wonder that the media that tends to look at the negatives would focus on the bigger queues and shortages of medicines in hospitals and fail to give a holistic view that the department is on a mission to get more people on treatment.