“Do not film!” — In a forbidding environment for journalists, an AP all-formats team on assignment in Chad explores a vaccine desert.
Telling the story of COVID’s horrors from a global perspective has been a main goal of The Associated Press this year, and that has become even more vital as the United States and a select few other developed nations have leapt forward on vaccinations, protecting large segments of their populations. But while positive trends emerge for these privileged countries, numerous nations have yet to administer a single shot.
One of those countries is Chad, where West Africa Bureau Chief Krista Larson, joined by Lagos, Nigeria-based video journalist Lekan Oyekanmi and photographer Sunday Alamba, had been assigned to cover the sudden death of longtime President Idriss Itno Deby. The crew decided to use the opportunity to look at the coronavirus situation in a country where not even front-line doctors and nurses have access to a vaccine.
Political unrest made their jobs far more challenging. Amid rumors of a rebel advance on the capital, N’Djamena, plainclothes police and uniformed colleagues were on the hunt for reporters. The AP team’s hired driver warned them again and again: “Do not film!” In fact, Alamba and Oyekanmi had already been detained for eight hours while covering the president’s death and warned not to venture out into the street again, on threat of deportation.
Alamba and Oyekanmi were detained for eight hours and warned not to venture out into the street again.
After many days of prodding, the team was granted a small window to visit a COVID ward in the capital. When they arrived, it became clear that what authorities had in mind was just a brief interview with some pre-selected medical staff in a sterile boardroom. But the AP all-formats crew did not accept that, making the case to to see the ward for themselves, eventually winning over the local personnel. The images shot by Alamba and Oyekanmi at the small hospital, along with stories of bravery and deprivation among overwhelmed medical staff, speak volumes.
Beyond Chad, the story also focused on places such as Haiti and Burkina Faso, which have also yet to administer a single vaccine shot, highlighting deep global inequality despite months of promises by wealthy nations to help vaccinate the world.
For intrepid coverage and perseverance in the harshest of reporting environments, Larson, Alamba and Oyekanmi win AP’s Best of the Week award.