Kemi Busari has emerged as the first Nigerian winner of the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award as he won the Silver Award for Science Reporting In-Depth category.
Kemi Busari, Nigeria editor for an African fact-checkers organization called Dubawa, did a five-month investigation of a Nigerian man who was posing as a doctor and promoting an herbal concoction with unverified claims of curing malaria and other ills. Kemi Busari arranged for an independent laboratory to test the concoction against a standard anti-malarial drug. It had no effect and lab animals that received high doses of the herbal mix developed severe liver and kidney damage. Days after Busari’s story was published by Dubawa and the Premium Times, the bogus doctor was arrested and distribution of his product halted.
Winners of the 2023 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards
Presenter Adam Rutherford and producer Ilan Goodman won a Gold Award in the Audio category for a BBC series on the eugenics movement and its continuing repercussions in the modern age. Ashley Smart of Undark, an online magazine, won the Gold Award in the Science Reporting In-Depth category for a piece on the lingering impact of scientific racism, including the appropriation of legitimate genetics research for extremist ends.
On a more optimistic note, a NOVA documentary from Terra Mater Studios for PBS won a Gold Award in the Video In-Depth category for tracing the heritage and future of African astronomy through the eyes of a visionary Senegalese astronomer trying to spur the establishment of a space agency in his home country.
The Silver Award in the same category went to the “Wild Hope” series for PBS Nature from HHMI Tangled Bank Studios. The winning entry looked at a variety of habitat restoration and species recovery efforts, emphasizing the resilience of nature when given a chance and the value of hope in the face of unrelenting reports on the potentially devastating impacts of climate change.
The awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recognize distinguished science reporting for a general audience. The program, endowed by The Kavli Foundation and open to journalists worldwide, drew entries from a record 74 countries this year.
For the first time since the awards program went global in 2015, more than half of the entries – 54 percent – were international. Among the winners this year were entrants from Australia, Austria, Brazil, India, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom.
There is a Gold Award ($5,000) and Silver Award ($3,500) for each of the eight categories. Independent panels of science journalists select the winners, who will receive their awards in a ceremony held in conjunction with the 2024 AAAS Annual Meeting in Denver in February.
Among the winners were two stories on the underappreciated value of parasites. Emily Driscoll and Jeffery DelViscio of Scientific American won the Gold Award in the Video Spot News/Feature category for “Quest to Save the Parasites” and Stephen Ornes won a Silver Award in the Children’s Science News category for his Science News Explores story: “Some ecologists value parasites ― and now want a plan to save them.” This is the third time Ornes has won the AAAS Kavli award.
Dubawa/Premium Times (Nigeria)
June 10, 2023
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In his investigation of a bogus doctor selling an herbal cure-all for malaria and other ills, Kemi Busari, Nigeria editor for an African fact-checkers organization called Dubawa, found that hundreds of thousands of bottles of the brew likely were sold monthly. Distressingly, the “doctor” was urging people to turn away from hospitals and modern medicine and trust in the power of his brew, particularly for children. Bottles of the concoction displayed two fake registration numbers from Nigeria’s regulatory body for food and drugs, Busari found. The agency did issue one genuine registration number for the product in 2018. It expired in 2020 and has not been renewed. Beyond the muddled regulatory oversight, Busari reported concerns by scientists about the possible health risks of the concoction. He arranged with a professor of pharmacology and therapeutics to test the concoction versus chloroquine, an established anti-malarial drug. Animals in two groups administered low and high dosages of the herbal concoction did not show any curative effect. Those on a high dose suffered severe kidney and liver damage. Days after Busari’s story was published by Dubawa and Nigeria’s Premium Times, the Nigerian food and drug agency confirmed the arrest of the bogus doctor and announced a nationwide mop-up of the toxic concoction.
Judge Richard Harris, long-time science correspondent for NPR, said Busari “exposed government ineptitude, or worse, while unmasking a significant health hazard in Nigeria. The report dug deep into the science ― with help from working scientists ― and led to action against a dangerous yet widely used concoction.” Busari said his award is “not just an accolade but a reminder of the important work we do as journalists and the essential role we have to play in actualizing dreams of a better life in our communities, especially when people look up to us as a beacon of last hope.”