|Women are crucial to spreading the anti-HIV/AIDS message|
By Thierry Delvigne-Jean
NIAMEY, Niger, 30 November 2004 – Radio is the newest tool for fighting HIV and AIDS in Niger.
In the centre of the town of Wakosso, villagers gathered under a big tree for a talk on HIV and AIDS. The talk was recorded and then aired on national radio as part of a programme to reach remote communities with life-saving health information.
The HIV/AIDS infection rate in Niger is one of the lowest in Africa. But the epidemic is looming, and women are particularly affected. According to a UNICEF study, only one in four women in Niger knows how to protect herself against HIV/AIDS.
The radio programme always starts with a teaser question. That night’s theme was HIV/AIDS, but people in the audience didn’t know that yet. They would have to find out with the help of Manini Issaka, the host of the show.
“We want to involve the whole community,” said Issaka. “We don’t go there and say we’ll talk about AIDS and such… It’s the people who have to find out by themselves.”
Participants who provided the right answer were asked a series of questions to test their knowledge of the disease and how it is transmitted.
“Tell me one way you can get infected with HIV?” asked Issaka, pointing his microphone towards the participants. Answers and laughter poured from the crowd.
“When you drink alcohol in a bar…”
“At the barber…”
“When you get your nails cut…”
A health worker was on hand to dispel misconceptions and to provide the facts on the disease.
Issaka made sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Women were especially encouraged to join in.
“We raise awareness so that women can sensitize their husbands and encourage other women to participate,” said Issaka. “We’ve noticed that women pay more attention than men. Men tend to think they know everything. They’ve been to the city, they’ve seen this and that… But they have nothing in their heads… Women listen to what we tell them. They listen to the radio, they are in their kitchen with the radio on and they pay attention.”
But much remains to be done to fight the stigma surrounding the disease. The fear of being ostracized is still prevalent.
“Your own family can reject you. They reject you and don’t want to have any contact with you. That’s a big problem in Niger. This situation needs to change. Families need to understand that HIV-positive people need to be supported and helped…”
But things are changing. Public radio programmes on AIDS like this one would have been unthinkable not so long ago in Niger.