Background: Although the pharmaceutical industry's "neglect" of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) has been investigated, no study evaluating media coverage of NTDs has been published. Poor media coverage exacerbates the neglect. This study aimed to investigate, describe, and analyse international media coverage of "neglected diseases" in general and three specific NTDs--African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, and Chagas disease--from 1 January 2003 to 1 June 2007.
Methods: Archives of 11 leading international, English-language media were searched. A content analysis was done, coding for media organisation, date, author, type of report, slant, themes, and "frames". Semi-structured interviews with journalists and key informants were conducted for further insight.
Principal findings: Only 113 articles in a 53-month time period met the inclusion criteria, with no strong trends or increases in coverage. Overall, the BBC had the highest coverage with 20 results, followed by the Financial Times and Agence France Presse. CNN had the least coverage with one result. The term "neglected diseases" had good media currency and "sleeping sickness" was far more widely used than trypanosomiasis. The disease most covered was leishmaniasis and the least covered was Chagas. Academic researchers were most commonly quoted as a main source, while the World Health Organization (WHO) and pharmaceutical industry were the least quoted. Journalists generally agreed NTDs had not been adequately covered, but said a lack of real news development and the need to cater to domestic audiences were major obstacles for NTD reporting. All journalists said health agencies, particularly WHO, were not communicating adequately about the burden of NTDs.
Conclusions: Public health agencies need to raise priority for NTD advocacy. Innovative strategies, such as reporting grants or creating a network of voices, may be needed.