2023 Science Reporting In-Depth - Silver

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.”