American University of Beirut

Reaching out to a forgotten audience is an art of public health

It is Monday morning. Zainab is preparing herself for her weekly rendezvous with her audience across Lebanon. An audience rich with people who have different educational and socio-economic backgrounds.  “With us, Monday is cozier," her weekly radio talk show, hosts renowned scientists who discuss most pressing issues related to COVDI-19 pandemic.

Zainab Zaiter is a host in a national radio station in Lebanon. She is specialized in Economic Journalism. When asked how she has gotten into Health Journalism, Zainab responds, “When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I noticed a lot of misinformation spreading about the disease. I had to do something, but I didn't have the scientific background. I couldn't tell without the help of the experts which information is right and which is wrong. Then, I noticed on social media a health promotion campaign, the mythbusters campaign, led by the Health Promotion and Community Health Department at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut. I contacted them. They were eager to help, and I was eager to learn. This is how our health promotion journey started." 

Zainab began with a 10-minute program called “True or false" to correct misconceptions about COVID-19. She was thrilled by the overwhelming reactions of her audience. People were reaching out to her, through the radio and through her personal number, asking for clarifications about the disease. Zainab, along with the administration of the radio station where she works, felt that a more comprehensive program is needed to respond to all these inquiries from people. And thus, “With us, Monday is cozier" was born.

For each episode, Zainab and the researchers from AUB spent hours in preparation. They were keen at presenting scientific information in a simple, accurate, and attractive manner.  They discussed how to present complex health information to an audience with such diversity in age and educational backgrounds.  Sometimes, the researchers had to share their personal experiences to get their messages through. They spoke the language of their audience, and the simplicity of their messages encouraged people to step forward and ask more questions. People were lost. They needed this reliable guidance. One episode led to another. It's been a year and a half now and the program is still going strong. On what she gained from this collaboration, Zainab notes, “I learned a lot from this experience. I learned to always have a scientific reference for every information I share, to check multiple resources, and to explore different means of presenting the information at hand."

Through her work in the radio station, Zainab wants to reach people who are not internet savvy. People who may not understand health campaigns on television, and who may be reluctant to ask for clarification. Those are usually forgotten and need this information the most. Zainab recalls one homemaker who encouraged her husband, a taxi driver, to get vaccinated after she heard the COVID-19 vaccine episode on her program. Zainab often repeats, “If only one person changes their behavior when they listen to my program, I would be very satisfied." To reach the maximum number of people, the program is also livestreamed on the radio website. In addition, Zainab writes articles based on the program and posts them on the Arabic website “Lebanon 24."

This pandemic made it clear to us where the priority lies. Despite all the inconvenient circumstances we are living through in Lebanon, we learned that our health is the most important thing. We need health researchers to guide us on how to protect ourselves and our loved ones," says Zainab.  Zainab crossed the bridge from journalism to an unfamiliar ground — health promotion. She walked the extra mile to connect with those who are otherwise left behind. She spoke their language, asked their questions, and responded to their concerns. This is the art of caring for the forgotten. This is an art of public health! ​​

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