Young people take to radio airwaves to sensitize fellow adolescents about COVID-19

Radio is free to listen to and cheap to buy and maintain.

By Denis Jjuuko
coronavirus, COVID-19, Uganda, adolescent health, adolescent development, adolescent participation, radio shows, youth, young people
UNICEF Uganda/2018/Nakibuuka
29 June 2020

“We heard it on the radio” is a common reference people make during conversations in Uganda as radio is the major source of information in the country. Radio is free to listen to and cheap to buy and maintain. Even the cheapest feature mobile phone today has an inbuilt radio. In rural areas, people are many times seen tending to their gardens or cattle while listening to the radio as both a source of news and entertainment.

The radio would turn out to be even more important during the lock down of the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March this year, with the first patient of COVID-19 identified, the Government of Uganda instituted various measures to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. These measures included dissemination of guidelines for the prevention of the spread of the virus among high populations such as institutions of learning. A key decision was taken by the government to close all institutions and suspend activities that entail mass gatherings as they facilitate the transmission of COVID- 19.

Before COVID-19 led to the lock down of schools and the banning of mass gatherings, UNICEF Uganda through the Straight Talk Foundation, a Ugandan NGO was implementing a programme that was addressing issues and challenges adolescents face in some parts of the country through provision of information on violence prevention, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, HIV, teenage pregnancies and imparting life skills to adolescents to manage the risks through  adolescent /school clubs, music, dance and drama presentations; Go to school,  stay in school and back to school campaigns, and adolescents-parents/caregivers engagement sessions.

With the lock down as a result of COVID-19, adjustments were made to ensure that the programmes continue but this time through interactive live radio talk shows. COVID-19 messages were incorporated into the programmes. The live radio talk shows involve “Junior Journalists” addressing fellow adolescents live on radio in their local languages.

“The Junior Journalists are supported by technical resource persons from Straight Talk Foundation to address issues ranging from COVID-19 prevention, the campaign to enroll adolescents back to school, fight against HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies, child marriages; and Menstrual Hygiene Management,”

explains Ronald O’Mara, the Mass Media Manager at Straight Talk Foundation

O’Mara adds that “adolescent intellectual input is obtained through calls for interactions with panellists on the radio talk shows. The Junior Journalists articulate adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) issues based on previous engagements with community members through dialogues while also incorporating COVID-19 messages in the discussion.”

He further says that young people have been empowered with information on causes, effects, and preventive measures of COVID-19. “Adolescents now understand the myths and misconception about COVID-19. Before, many believed that alcohol boosts their immune systems making it difficult to contract COVID-19,” O’Mara says. “They now differentiate between facts and rumours and many have become change agents in the community,” he adds.

These interactive live radio talk shows are in Lebthur, Pokot, Ngakaramajong, Lusoga, Madi, and Lugbara languages in Moroto, Abim, Nakapiripirit, Kotido, Kamuli, Adjumani, Moyo, and Arua districts.

The Junior Journalists go beyond live radio talk shows by distributing leaflets about COVID-19 in their communities. Peer educators trained by Straight Talk Foundation compliment the Junior Journalists in this activity. The leaflets were also made by STF with support from UNICEF Uganda by using resources meant for the activity of mapping of livelihood opportunities in the communities and referring and linking out of school adolescents for skills upgrading. The leaflets were translated into local languages from the English version produced by the Ministry of Health.

“Whereas there has been a closure of schools and a ban on community activities, we recognize the importance of enhancing prevention efforts for COVID-19 among young people given the multitude of other risks associated with the closure of schools."

These include violence against children, teenage pregnancies, forced marriages, rape, and defilement, to mention but a few. Sensitization is a key component of this prevention approach,” O’Mara explains.

As a direct result of these radio programmes, young adults have been appointed to the Nebbi District COVID-19 Taskforce to help address adolescent concerns. Adolescents have learnt to be proactive using information on COVID-19, sexual and reproductive health rights during the lock down to avoid pregnancies, HIV and other risks while at the same time observing the standard operating procedures regarding COVID-19 as issued by the Government of Uganda.