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UNICEF’s avian influenza workshops educate Thai local media

© UNICEF Thailand/2007/Jirathun
During a field visit to a wet market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, journalists taking part in UNICEF’s avian influenza training workshop interview a chicken seller.

By Nattha Keenapan

CHIANG MAI, Thailand, 5 February 2007 – When local reporter Arntai Khaikharnfa was assigned to attend a workshop on bird flu here, he was not very enthusiastic.

Avian influenza had never been of much interest to him, and he and his colleagues had never reported on the subject – even though the virus has now spread to more than 45 countries, killing 164 people, including 17 in Thailand.

“Before the training, I didn’t even know what H5N1 meant,” Mr. Khaikharnfa said, referring to the scientific name of the deadly virus. “I wasn’t really interested and I didn’t think the outbreak was a big deal. Now I know I was wrong.”

Mr. Khaikharnfa, who was born in Myanmar, was one of the 14 journalists who attended a recent three-day bird flu training workshop organized by UNICEF with financial assistance from the Japanese Government. The workshop was aimed at educating reporters on how to cover avian influenza in an accurate, balanced and informative way.

As part of its response to rapidly spreading bird flu outbreaks, UNICEF has supported similar workshops for more than 250 journalists from high-risk Asian countries, including Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

© UNICEF Thailand/2007/Jirathun
Thai journalists participating in the avian influenza workshop interview a migrant worker at a chicken slaughterhouse in Chiang Mai.

First report on bird flu

Mr. Khaikharnfa said he now realizes the ever-present danger of a bird flu outbreak in Thailand’s ethnic Shan villages. Several hundred thousand Shan migrant workers, refugees and permanent residents live in Chiang Mai and nearby provinces. More than half of them raise chickens at home.

“I don’t think the villagers know how to protect themselves from bird flu. Many still have problems even getting access to mainstream Thai media – let alone understanding the Thai language and the information it conveys,” said Mr. Khaikharnfa, who is now writing his first-ever article about the spread of bird flu and how villages can protect themselves.

The article will be published by the Shan Herald Agency for News in its monthly magazine, which is published in both Shan and Burmese, and reaches 3,000 households across Thailand.

Influence of community radio

Prior to the UNICEF workshop, “we didn’t know where to get information on bird flu or who to go to, because there is not enough coordination between provincial authorities and local media,” said Pichit Pongjirangkan, the producer of a popular Chiang Mai radio programme who participated in the media training.

“I used to think bird flu was irrelevant because outbreaks nearly always occurred in other provinces,” he added.

According to Mr. Pongjirangkan, practical information on protecting oneself from bird flu often fails to reach community radio stations in remote areas. As a result, “it is very important to have knowledgeable DJs to communicate with our audiences,” said Nongluk Puttawong, a disk jockey at Mae Chaem Community Radio – most of whose listeners are villagers in remote areas, and nearly all of whom have chickens at home.

“Community radio has a big influence on villagers,” she continued. “Sometimes they even carry their radios out to the rice fields and they believe what DJs tell them. If we get the right messages and know how to communicate them, we can change people’s behaviour and protect the community from bird flu.”



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