An investigation by Kemi Busari, Nigeria’s DUBAWA Editor, of a popular but dangerous herbal concoction, has won a global science award.
Mr Busari won the Silver Award for Science Reporting In-Depth category making him the first AAAS Kavli winner from Nigeria since the awards programme went global in 2015, a statement announcing the award notes.
Endowed by the Kavli Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awards annually recognises distinguished science reporting from journalists worldwide.
Mr Busari’s entry, the Baba Aisha Herbal Medicine story, was a five-month investigation into a Nigerian masquerading as a doctor, who was promoting a herbal concoction with unverified claims of curing malaria and various other ailments.
Partnering with an independent laboratory, he evaluated the herbal mixture in contrast to chloroquine, an anti-malarial medication. The results showed no positive effects, and lab animals exposed to high doses of the herbal mixture experienced severe liver and kidney damage.
Alarming as it may be, the self-proclaimed “doctor” was actively promoting the idea of shunning hospitals and contemporary medical practices in favour of placing their faith in his concoction, especially for children, resulting in the sale of thousands of bottles every month.
Mr Busari’s investigation uncovered that the bottles of this mixture bore one counterfeit and one expired registration number from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). This publication subsequently led to the arrest of the doctor, the closure of the herbal mixture factory, and a nationwide mop-up of harmful concoctions.
In a comment, Judge Richard Harris, a veteran science correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), commended Mr Busari for exposing government ineffectiveness, while revealing a significant health risk in Nigeria.
He “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,” he stated.
Speaking on his achievement, Mr 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 actualising dreams of a better life in our communities, especially when people look up to us as a beacon of last hope.”
The Chief Executive Officer of AAAS and Executive Publisher of the Science Family of Journals, Sudip Parikh, described the AAAS Kavli Awards as a “recognized measure of excellence in science journalism.”
“With compelling winners for the first time from Brazil and Nigeria, the global reach of the programme is even more firmly established,” he said.
This year, the Kavli Foundation received submissions from 74 countries. For the first time in the history of the awards programme, over half of the entries were of international origin. This year’s winners featured participants from Australia, Austria, Brazil, India, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom.
The awards comprised eight categories, where winners emerged either with a Gold or Silver distinction, entailing rewards of $5,000 and $3,500, respectively.
For his December 2022 research, Ashley Smart, another entrant won Gold in the Award for Science Reporting In-Depth Category where Mr Busari won Silver. Other categories for the award included: Science Reporting – Large Outlet, Science Reporting – Small Outlet, Magazine, Spot News/Feature Reporting, Video In-Depth Reporting, Audio, and Children’s Science News.
For the selected winners, the awards will be conferred during a ceremony that will take place in conjunction with the 2024 AAAS Annual Meeting in Denver in February 2024.
Since its publication, the Baba Aisha investigation has continued to clinch different international awards. In July 2023, it won the International Fact-Checking Network’s Highest Impact Award at the Global Fact 10 summit held in Seoul.
In September, the report also emerged as runner-up at the 2023 edition of BudgIT’s Active Citizens Award.
In October 2023, the same secured second place in the professional fact-checking category at the 2023 Africa Fact-Check Awards held in Mauritius.
Mr Busari has received several recognitions for his works including the 2018 Free Press Han Verplog Award, the 2018 PwC Award for Media Excellence, the 2017 Promasidor Quill Award as Best Online Journalist and the 2017 Nigerian Writers Award as Best Feature Writer.
He is a two-time runner-up for the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting and the West Africa Award for Media Excellence.