Right on our doorstep, yet worlds away. Matt Wade and Louise Kennerley’s coverage of the PNG Health Crisis for Fairfax Wins ACFID Media Award

23 Oct, 2019

Matt Wade, Senior Economics Writer at the Sydney Morning Herald and photo-journalist Louise Kennerley, have won the Australian Council for International Development’s (ACFID) 2019 media award for their piece ‘Right on our doorstep’: Papua New Guinea’s health crises hit home’ featured in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine.

The article highlights the health-care crisis in Papua New Guinea, a country that is less than four kilometres away from Australia at its closest point, yet has some of the world’s worst health statistics. The article covers the rise in communicable and non-communicable diseases in PNG, and the declining coverage and efficacy of the country’s health-care system.

The award – presented at ACFID’s annual conference in Sydney on Wednesday evening – recognised Wade and Kennerley’s respectful portrayal of patients, families and health-care workers in Papua New Guinea, and their use of personal stories to emphasise the gravity of the decline of the nation’s health-care system.

The judged notes how Wade brought meticulous research, sensitivity and nuanced writing to the article, and Kennerley’s raw and powerful photographs show the human cost of the problem.

The article outlines that the health care crisis is not just a tragedy for Papua New Guineans but is also a risk for Australia. Several cases of drug-resistant TB have spread in Australia’s northern Indigenous communities that neighbour PNG, and 2018 saw PNG’s first confirmed case of polio in more than two decades.

Presenting the award, President of ACFID, Susan Pascoe, said:

“This article brought human stories and powerful images from our closest neighbours into the homes of Australians, many of whom are unaware that women in PNG are giving birth without a trained health professional, have to walk for days to access basic health-care, or have to care for a child with polio, tuberculosis or leprosy.

“The article adeptly moves from the personal to the political, showing the courage and tenacity of Papua New Guineans facing and often overcoming extremely challenging circumstances, while also outlining the systematic failures in the health care system, including a lack of funding.

“The judges commended the way authors were able to take a complex issue and make it relatable and easy to understand for the Australian public, weaving in the perspectives of primary stakeholders and giving their voice primacy throughout the piece.”

The winners came from a strong, competitive field of entries from across the Australian media, with two nominations receiving special commendations from the judges.

Ellen Whinnet and Ella Pellegrini’s series of stories which featured across NewsCorp publications painted a respectful and compassionate picture of life in Syria for people living through years of war.

Susan Pacoe commented: “The judges noted how Ellen and Ella were able to bring this complex story to a large Australian audience with limited space in tabloid publications. They did a wonderful job in making local people and experiences the dominant voices.”

The judges also wished to commend the work of Jennifer Sexton in her work which brought the attention of the Australian public to the children living in detention on Nauru Island.

Jennifer’s work featured on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, and was followed with a number of stories over the proceeding days.

Susan Pascoe said: “The judges commended the way that Jennifer brought the plight of these children to the attention of a cohort of readers that may not be often exposed to such images and stories.”

The annual ACFID Media Award aims to promote and recognise journalists delivering informed and studied media items about international development and/or humanitarian issues.

The Award is presented to a journalist or journalistic team that has produced a single piece or series that:

·       Profiles with sensitivity and respect the issues and lives of people experiencing poverty and injustice;

·       Shows an understanding of the complexity of humanitarian and/or development issues; and

·        Is judged to have the potential to help expand the knowledge of the Australian public in relation to humanitarian and/or international development issues.