Long before we started blogging, we would copy and paste the few stories on health from the Nigerian press on emails, and send these round. When we started blogging, we would intermittently dedicate one blog to news articles. We knew this was inefficient, but we were trying to find a balance between informed commentary on the health scene in Nigeria, and simply giving people information on stories regarding health. But then a neat small piece of technology came along and solved our dilemma - Twitter!
Using Twitter we could share in real time the health stories related to Nigeria and you could read them just by folllowing us on Twitter. But it gets better - you can search retrospectively for health related stories out of Nigeria using the hash tag #nigeriahealth. For those of you that read the blog directly on the website - you will find the twitter feed on the right side of the blog.
If you have not been paying attention to twitter - you should! Recently, the news of the explosions in Abuja first came through via Twitter, from eyewitnesses using their mobile phones. Conventional media relied on citizens tweeting. Within minutes some the victims of the bomb blast were “seen” first on Twitter. NTA (which was running life commentary on the 50th jubilee activities from Eagle square) lost its mojo with Nigerians because for the first time in a long time, people realised the power on in their hands, on their mobile phones,camera phones and the internet.
But why does all this matter?
We believe that it matters because social media not only brings awareness to important issues affecting society (in our case health care) but will hopefully also incite action around them. Action by people, professionals and government. We believe that as we build a critical mass of self-selected people interested in health issues in Nigeria, we will eventually be able to mobilise ourselves and draw attention to specific issues in our health sector, rallying around the positives and protesting the negatives. While we acknowledge that the awareness that we seek to create is on its own not sufficient for activism, it is a necessary one.
Online communities, like the one we seek to create around health issues in Nigeria will introduce new (or old) issues into our collective consciousness and create empathy for the situations that might be on face value irrelevant to us. Ultimately we should then be able to make the connections between a Ministry's allocation of its resources and deaths from cholera in Zamfara or during childbirth in Akwa Ibom.
In the digital age that we live in, access to information will remove some of the boundaries artificially created by our governments to deprive us of access to the information which we need to inspire action. Maybe the dream of a Twitter powered grass-root movement for health and health care in Nigeria might seem a bit too much to achieve at the moment ...but hey ...why not? Quoting Evgeny Morozov, a well known internet scholar and blogger (watch his TEDtalk) - "Access to information is the first tile in the domino effect of awareness, empathy and action".
The power of Twitter is to inform, inspire and to incite...incite positive action by society. Ours is an experiment to see if it works. It will depend on you!
Take the first step and "Follow" us @ http://twitter.com/nighealthwatch
But when you put yourself in the public space ...one must be confident in not just the content but also on one's motives, and it is only because we are confident in both that we were not deterred when the following popped up in our email box saying the "Nigerian Police Force is now following your tweets on Twitter"