Alliance Fellow Veronica Mwaba wins COVID science journalism grant

By Lenganji Sikapizye

April 16, 2021

Veronica Mwaba, a 2018 Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow and founder and executive director of Dziwa Science and Technology Trust (DSaT), has been awarded the COVID-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund in Science Journalism.

The US$19,782 grant will fund work in Zambia on a project entitled “COVID-19: Linking Science Society to Better Lives (COVID 19: LinkSS)” for 18 months.

A total of 80 projects across 17 African countries have been selected for funding under the COVID-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund, which was launched in May 2020. Projects are supported across three strands: 41 in research and 39 in science engagement, including five in science advice and 34 in science journalism.

The projects in science journalism will address topics such as exploring the role and effectiveness of the media in the dissemination of information and misinformation; developing effective communication strategies to counter COVID-19 misinformation; exploring how misinformation spreads; and methods to alleviate the fear generated by misinformation.

Mwaba said there is need to build capacity in the media, which remain a critical source of information dissemination. She noted that journalists have a huge task to bridge the information gap and provide accurate and timely information to the masses, especially on the new coronavirus, which is considered complex to understand.

Media’s role is important to enhance the participation of key stakeholders including policy to curb the pandemic, she said. “Without leaving anyone behind,” the COVID-19: LinkSS project will endeavor to collaborate with researchers and partners taking care of marginalized groups on communication interventions to address the needs on health-related issues.

“It is known that the new coronavirus is complicated and a health concern,” Mwaba said. “The COVID-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund has come at a time when the world is still struggling to contain the pandemic. Therefore, researchers and media should take keen interest in gender to allow active participation by both males and females regardless of their standing in society to tell their stories on health matters.”

The National Research Foundation (NRF), supported by South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation (DSI); Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC); the Fonds de Recherché du Québec (FRQ); the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA); the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO); United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Newton Fund; and the Science Granting Councils Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI) participating Councils have collaborated and are funding this initiative, which was conceptualized under the auspices of the SGCI.

Filipo Zulu, who as acting executive secretary of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) publicized the call for entries in Zambia, expressed happiness when announcing Mwaba’s award. He said the multilateral and bilateral collaborations that NSTC entered into on behalf of the Zambian government in the areas of science, technology and innovation are bearing fruit. These collaborations and benefiting the local NGOs who are complimenting the government’s efforts in promoting those sectors as a key driver of socio–economic development.

Zulu said that Dziwa Science and Technology Trust will assist in demystifying conspiracy theories around COVID -19 in the country and provide the public with evidence-based information regarding the pandemic.

Mwaba, who is also the principal investigator for the project, said it will bring together, researchers, media, academia, NGO’s and the public and private sector to highlight the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, scientific research and its relevance to society.   She thanked NSTC for taking a lead role in supporting researchers and other science-based institutions in fostering local innovations.

Past Fellows of the Cornell Alliance Global Leadership Fellows program have actively been undertaking projects to advance the initiative’s mission. Mwaba’s project is timely because it comes at a time when there are many conspiracy theories around COVID-19 and concerted efforts are being made to allay the misinformation.

In 2020, the Cornell Alliance for Science released a media analysis that identifies the hot topics and major players in the misinformation “infodemic” that has accompanied the global COVID-19 pandemic. The study, which evaluated 38 million articles published by English-language, traditional media worldwide, identified over 1.1 million news articles that disseminated, amplified or reported on misinformation related to the pandemic.