Over the last seven months, we have steadily built this network and witnessed our members’ engagement on various digital platforms and during live events. We know that the HJN can only be sustainable and effective if it meets the hyperlocal needs of its members, which is why we need our members’ input to shape its long-term vision. To this end, we are pleased to announce the launch of the HJN Ambassadors’ Pilot Program.

This pilot program consists of working with a select group of HJN members who will guide us over the coming months in identifying the needs of health media professionals in their countries and/or regions of the world, identifying ways to support media professionals that address health inequities through their daily work, and expanding the notion of health beyond a disease-centered model. We are actively recruiting one more HJN Ambassador in Latin America and the Caribbean region. We are happy to introduce you to our current cohort of HJN Ambassadors, who they are and what they are planning to do in their respective communities! All of them are committed to expanding the Health Journalism Network and improving the quality of health reporting worldwide.

The HJN Ambassadors’ Pilot Program ran from May through December of 2021. At the end of the program each of the Ambassadors shared their thoughts on what it meant to be an Ambassador, what they gained from the experience and overall how it impacted them. Meet our 2021 Ambassadors below and read what they had to say about the experience!

Children in Colombia
Image: Courtesy of Sinergias

In the Andean region of Latin America, our HJN Ambassador is Sinergias Alianzas Estratégicas para la Salud y el Desarrollo Social, a Colombian NGO founded in 2011 that promotes a holistic vision of health and development by strengthening local capacity, knowledge and experiences and by influencing public health and social development policies. Through collaborative exercises led by local leaders, Sinergias facilitates the design and validation of local and intercultural health systems to promote conversations on ancestral and allopathic medicine. They also seek to improve institutional capacity to provide quality healthcare services and strengthen local governance skills. Sinergias works with communities to identify their needs, doubts and resources and collectively create solutions for health and development. They leverage communication and information strategies while working with local leaders to inform, educate and receive feedback on issues such as neglected diseases, maternal health, community surveillance and self-governance. This scope of work was strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with El Canto del Tucán, a radio show that combines local experiences with ancestral and western knowledge on how to address the COVID-19 emergency and other health issues.

Babatunde Okunlola, Nigeria

Babatunde Portrait
Image: courtesy of Babatunde Okunlola

Okunlola is Head of Content at Royal FM in the city of Ilorin, in Kwara state, Nigeria. He is a multimedia development journalist and documentary filmmaker with over a decade of experience in media for development. He is known for initiating conversations that promote accountability and encourage audiences to think, take ownership of their lives and foster change in their own communities. As the head of Content for Royal FM, Okunlola develops radio programs, creates media campaigns, and produces documentaries that are heard by over three million listeners in 80 communities, both within and outside of his state. As a reporter, he is committed to elevate conversations about Africa’s under-reported development issues using multimedia tools that create inclusive development-focused media platforms. In 2015, he founded Dazzle Media Creations and Concepts Limited.

Notable awards: Okunola is a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and 2021 Alumnus Ambassador, a 2018 ICFJ fellow on Climate and Migration, 2018 ICFJ fellow on Early Childhood development, 2018 BBC Komla Dumor Awards finalist, a YIAGA Bounce Corruption Ambassador, 2017 Obama YALI Fellow, and a Radio Netherlands training center alumni.

Okunlola believes that good health, beyond the absence of illness and disease, should focus on key intersections such as mental health and wholeness. From a journalism perspective, he believes that health should be reported in an all encompassing way, one that engages audiences in conversations about health services, policies and their impact on communities.

“The HJN site is a great resource for journalists, who are looking to understand and report health issues and other many intersecting themes. This is especially important as a time when health reporting is crucial in bringing about better outcomes for minorities, underreported groups, communities and the world at large.”

Using the HJN platform and resources, Okunlola is seeking to build bridges that connect journalists across Nigeria on ways and avenues of prioritizing health issues in communities. 

“Becoming an Internews HJN Ambassador has been a career defining moment which I will forever remain grateful for. Beyond lessons and in-depth training received, perhaps the biggest gift of all for me was the gift of inspiration to impact the health space in Nigeria which will last long after the program is over. This opportunity gave me a much needed career push to further step out of my comfort zone,  by kicking off the Naija Health Journalists Network; a network of journalists across the country covering health issues solely and as an intersection.  This indeed has not only been one of the highlights of the year for me, but the professionalism and genuine camaraderie exhibited by mentors, not only provided an opportunity to deepen my knowledge on health issues and other intersections, but also reaffirms why Internews, continues to remain a force to reckon with in all the media spaces operated in across the world, years after its formation. I remain truly indebted and will continue to pay it forward” 

Babatunde Okunlola

Farah Adnan, Iraq

Farah Adnan
Image: courtesy of Farah Adnan

Adnan is a journalist and a filmmaker from Iraq. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Mass Communication, Journalism Department from the University of Baghdad. She is a freelance journalist and recently published several media projects in both Arabic and English. These projects include stories on water shortages in Iraq, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violence against Iraqi women, the refugee crisis, and the nursing challenge in Iraq. After participating in many journalism workshops, Adnan began her reporting career in 2012. Since then, she has worked with many local, Arab and international media outlets as a reporter and editor in both Arabic and English.

Adnan is committed to elevating the voices of the most marginalized members of her community and to cover issues that specifically impact minorities, women, refugees and internally displaced people. In 2019, Adnan directed the first short cinematic film entitled “Farah”, which was shown at the French Cultural Institute in Baghdad where she received an honorable mention for her work. Last, but not least, Adnan is a recognized visual creator and mobile content producer by Viewbug, a global community of creatives.

In one of her most ambitious pursuits, she conceived a project to establish an English channel (inclusive of news and other innovative programs) based in Iraq to broadcast globally. The concept has been certified by the Iraqi Ministry of Culture.

“The Health Journalism Network brings together journalists from all over the world to cover the most important topics about health in many countries. This is in itself of great value for improving the field of health journalism.”

To encourage her network of journalists to join the Internews Health Journalism Network (HJN), Farah took it upon herself to create using her mobile phone two videos – on in English and one in Arabic – that explain what the HJN is, what it offers, and how to become a Member.

“I learned from this experience how health issues today can be linked to many things that are kept silent in our world. When I began, I encouraged my fellow journalists in Iraq and the MENA region to register with the network and benefit from the tools, grants and information on health that the HJN provided. I also helped organize webinars for journalists in Iraq and MENA and they were not only the ones who benefited, but even I benefited from the information provided by the speakers during the webinars and during my time as an Ambassador. Being very ambitious and passionate about my work, I have many interests in the field of journalism and the filmmaking. My presence in the HJN has inspired me to pursue more innovative work in the field of health journalism in the future.” 

Farah Adnan

Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei, Ghana

Gideon Sarkodie
Image: courtesy of Gideon Sarkodie

Gideon Sarkodie Osei is news editor, morning show host, and special projects coordinator at ADARS FM in Kintampo, Ghana and a broadcast media trainer for Farm Radio International. He is an award-winning broadcast and freelance journalist and media trainer with a passion for telling stories about social justice and the environment. He has many years of experience in program development and implementation, with strategic communication skills on gender, climate change and adaptation. In addition to being an immensely creative journalist, Osei has a strong commitment to using robust investigative research methods in the pursuit of truth.

In his career, Osei has designed and implemented media campaigns for social change on agriculture and social development for many international organizations, including Farm Radio International, GIZ, WFP, Grameen Foundation, United Purpose, USAID, Solidaridad and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). During the global COVID-19 pandemic, Osei has written and published stories for both local and international media, including a report on the economic impact of COVID-19 on gender-based violence in Ghana. Osei is a member of many different journalism associations, including the Ghana Journalist Association, the Ghana Agriculture and Rural Development Journalists Association, the Africa Media and Malaria Research Network, the International Federation of Agriculture Journalists and the Internews Health Journalism Network.

Most notable awards: Farm Radio International’s George Atkins Communication Award in 2016, Internews Information Saves Lives Rapid Response Fund Grantee in 2020, Internews Health Journalism Network Ambassador 2021, Climate Tracker Drylands Fellow, and 2021 Kwame Karikari Fact Checking Fellow.

“Being an HJN Ambassador has widened my view as a health journalist; especially in a developing country like Ghana and in a public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. I have learned the critical role of health reporters in such situations. I have been able to create a network of both local and international journalists in Ghana and across Africa to share ideas and experiences. It was fascinating to be mentored by experienced journalists from the HJN as well. I plan to build upon the networks and use the experience to grow my career, especially in health journalism.”

Gideon Sarkodie Osei

Aynabat Yaylymova, Turkmenistan

Aynabat Yaylymova
Image: courtesy of Aynabat Yaylymova

Aynabat Yaylymova is Program Director and founder of the Turkmenistan Health Initiative, Saglyk.org. Aynabat is a native of Turkmenistan and she has worked with several civil society organizations in Turkmenistan. Health, for her, is not merely the absence of disease but a state of mental, physical and social well-being free from structural violence. In her own words, “Health matters because it impacts the dignity of every human being and it reminds us of our mortality and vulnerability.” The main issues of concern to audiences in Turkmenistan, besides COVID-19 at the moment, are access to relevant, up-to-date, and science-based public health information in the Turkmen language. This includes sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child morality, adolescent health and mental health.

“HJN has a large network of experts and practitioners and it is uniquely positioned to bring together people and their important but mostly overlooked public health issues and priorities to the table.” 

“This opportunity allowed me to bring up Сentral Asia and spotlight its’ mostly ignored public health issues at the international level. The events that I organized with the help of the HJN helped me expand my network of colleagues and connect with experts in the region. There is a great need in the region for this type of engagement. I am grateful to the program staff for kind cooperation and support during the program. Thank you!”

Aynabat Yaylymova

Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai, India

Muralik portrait
Image: Courtesy of Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai (Muralik)

Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai is Founder and Director of Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai Mediacorp (OPC) Private Limited, and the founding editor of Factfindings.in. After completing his graduation as a computer engineer, he chose to work in the field of journalism with a focus on digital media. He has been working in the field of journalism since 2008. Initially, he worked as a reporter then he became program producer with a reputable Tamil news channels. After this experience, he launched his digital media company in 2017. He is a trained Fact Checker with the Google News Initiative (GNI) Network and a trained Fact Checker and Media Literacy specialist with Factshala India Media Literacy Network.

Muralik thinks of health as physical, mental, social and ecological wellbeing. He believes that many people are leaning towards pseudoscience when seeking help for their physical and mental problems. In his opinion, health journalism is critical because of the proliferation of medical pseudoscience in the information age.

“As a trained engineer and journalist, I can leverage technology to share accurate information with journalists and the public. I also believe that translating information into Tamil, my native language, has the potential to help people better understand the science and make informed decisions about their health and wellness.”

“As an Internews HJN Ambassador, I’m very much privileged to say that I have learnt so many things on health matters with international perspectives. Apart from me, the other HJN Ambassadors are very inspiring. Their activities accelerate me to do things better. Many journalists now enquiring about the HJN. I will strengthen our network in India to have better reporting in health.”

Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai

To all of our Ambassadors, we thank YOU for making this pilot program a huge success!