Bosnian Leukaemia Patient Dies After Anti-Medical Advice from ‘Healer’

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Publishing organisation: Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina – BIRN BiH www.detektor.ba

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-03-10

Language: Bosnian, English

Authors: Azra Husarić Omerović


Azra Husaric Omerovic joined BIRN BiH team in October 2019 as a journalist and worked as a court reporter. In a meanwhile, Azra started to work on investigative stories in different fileds such as transitional justice, discriminatory and hate speech. She leads BIRN BiH project Mapping hate, one of a kinf database of hate and discriminatory speech as well as war crimes and genocide denial https://mapiranjemrznje.detektor.ba/. Azra won UNICEF award for contribution to the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the category “Internet work” for the year 2020. Azra has MA degree in Journalism.

Project description:

“Bosnian Leukaemia Patient Dies After Anti-Medical Advice from ‘Healer’” brings story about Sanela, who was diagnosed with leukemia and died despite a high percentage of possibility for the complete recovery because she took advice of a random group of people not to trust doctors and not to follow medical treatment and therapy. Using available correspondence the author managed to reconstruct the whole process of “healing” and in depth explain methods used by quacker to manipluate victims. The story started public debate about quackery in BiH, being republished 40 times and having numerous reports and TV shows done by other media.

Impact reached:

The story started first public debate about quackery in BiH, being republished 40 times and having numerous reports and TV shows done by other media as a follow up. Author received comments and messages from people who met the same or similar persons, who were offering “healing” services without adequate medical training and who were taking money for it. Author gave dozens of statements for other media, and the story resonated regionally as well. TV stations in Croatia and Serbia took research as a base and started discussion on quackery in their own countries, having many people in similar situation coming forward. Various prosecutor’s offices in the country told BIRN BiH that there are basis of criminal offense, currently determining jurisdiction. Persons mentioned in the research deleted their social media profiles, as well as public photos on WhatsApp and Viber applications.

Techniques/technologies used:

During the research author went through correspondence of the victim with the quacks (mobile messages, social media) provided by the victim’s family, sent Freedom of Information requests to the courts and prosecutors, used Google maps for finding addresses of the people involved while Excel and Google sheet were used to document collected data (collected evidences, FoI requests). BIRN BiH IT team developed special code for BIRN signature website www.detektor.ba in order to present all relevant messages in evidently and clear way, simulating mobile messages interface.

Context about the project:

During the work on the research, which lasted for almost a year, the biggest challenge was getting information and the data about people who were involved in quackery – getting to them personally, since they don’t use social networks to a large extent and many data about them was not available. For every document that would confirm their identity and that they were doing business somewhere, ie that they have something registered in their name, we had to get permission from the local courts to view the documents, which we could not copy or photograph, but only transcribe within a limited time frame, which massively reduced the possibility of having real insight into all documents related to their business. On the other hand, we also had a problem with the courts and prosecutions, from whom we did not receive data for months regarding the previous punishment of the persons we were investigating, or they did not want to provide us with the number of the court cases, which we did not even know if existed at that moment. In the attempt to publish the story, we tried to present the story as objectively as possible with all the relevant messages for the story we were working on. This presented a technical challenge, especially regarding the realization of the display of the page that our IT support specifically created for this investigation and the article, even though we had never published content in that form before. All this hard work paid off since this way of presenting messages, correspondences we received from the family, allowed end users to get the deep insight of the characteristics of quack approaches and methodologies using to deceive victims themselves.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

This project shows that for the investigations of this scope journalists have to dedicate special time and effort in order to collect all relevant information both from persons who are involved as well as from relevant institution. Extra work on developing a proper new interface on the website article, which would show all collected evidence and data in user friendly manner is effort worthy, since it maximize the impact of the story and shows that massive data, as months long correspondence is, can be shown in a way which would attract readers to stay with the long story. Showing messages of the victims with quakes allowed readers to be more personally involved in the story which, at the end, resulted with a massive number of reactions in the public, both by other media (in country and in neighboring Serbia and Croatia) as well as on many private social media accounts.

Project links: