[INTERVIEW] The Venezuelan journalist Marielba Nuñez works mainly on malaria, a disease that is again advancing in her country. Glo.be spoke with her as a 'journalist in residence' at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp.
Why did you choose malaria as your research subject?
I am interested in new methods to fight this disease. Venezuela is one of the most affected countries. The number of malaria cases is increasing, while it is just decreasing in the rest of the world. Researchers need to look at this pressing problem. In particular, we need more information about new methods of detecting malaria cases that do not show any symptoms. That is one of the angles I have analysed here at the institute. Malaria is a particular problem in southern Venezuela, but it is also spreading to the rest of South America and countries of migration.
Do you have statistics on malaria in your country?
The government does not provide any data. It is therefore difficult to know the real impact of this major epidemic. What the real situation is, we only know indirectly, through international organisations and NGOs. We do not know the mortality rate for malaria.
Is your country able to beat malaria?
At the turn of the century, the country was praised for its policy in the fight against the epidemic. Venezuela had succeeded in eradicating the disease over a large territory. Yet malaria has reappeared in the last ten years. Today, the situation is worrying: more than 400,000 new cases, in 2017 alone. This rapid increase is due to the collapse of the health system and the lack of access to treatment.
The journalist-in-residence programme of the ITM was a wonderful experience. I recommend it to everyone.
What solutions do you suggest for fighting malaria in your country? What do you want to highlight in your articles?
It is important to develop a health policy that reaches everyone. In addition, the spread of the malaria parasite must be stopped. But without political stability, the future is not promising. I investigated these aspects during my stay as a journalist in residence and I will also emphasize these in my next articles.
What does it mean being a journalist in Venezuela?
The situation of the press in my country is very difficult. According to recent data, 145 media providers have closed their doors since 2013 as a result of government pressure. I write for an independent newspaper. We try to inform our readers despite the obstacles, but it is not easy. At the moment, the newspaper may have to stop printing because of a lack of paper, which is : supplied to us by the government. We also have a digital platform, but it is sometimes blocked. We try to inform people but, unfortunately, our voices are increasingly being silenced. The government does not recognise the humanitarian emergency we are currently facing.
Marielba Nuñez is a Venezuelan journalist who works in Caracas for the newspaper El Nacional. She also writes articles for the scientific website SciDev.net. Marielba is particularly interested in research on drug resistance and new tools for fighting malaria.
Journalist-in-Residence is an initiative from the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM). In 2018, 3 journalists from Asia and Latin America had the opportunity to broaden their knowledge on a topic from tropical medicine or global health. The ITM is an essential partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation.