Spotlight: Health coverage on the radio in post-Ebola Guinea (Internews)

May 15, 2017
Une traduction pour cet article est disponible en Français

During the Ebola outbreak, which hit Guinea between 2013 and 2015, the nation’s attention was focused on the epidemic. The major media—newspapers, television and radio—covered the outbreak, and the NGO Internews launched Ebola Chrono, a radio news program that covered the prevention and treatment of Ebola.

Ebola Chrono broadcast more than 300 daily programs in both French and local languages. The programs were broadcast on 40 radio stations across Guinea.

Listeners enjoyed the program because it provided them with the information they needed to understand the outbreak and to prevent it from affecting their family. Many listeners said the program influenced how they looked after their health. They also said they enjoyed the interviews with ordinary people in the program.

But how has the Ebola outbreak shaped Guinea? During the outbreak, Guinea’s underdeveloped health system was overwhelmed, and many people stopped seeing doctors for routine issues. Health concerns other than Ebola were largely neglected and widely under-reported.

So as the Ebola crisis became contained, reporters at Ebola Chrono broadened their focus to raising awareness of general health issues and connecting media experts to community questions. The program became Ebola Chrono Plus.

So what health issues have they covered? For one: sickle cell anemia. Dr. Mamady Drame has been practicing medicine for over 40 years and has recently focused on sickle cell anemia. This is an inherited condition that affects Africans and people of African descent more commonly than others. Dr. Drame says, “It is the most expensive condition to get treatment for in Guinea, and there is no state funding.”

Ebola Chrono Plus broadcast a special segment on sickle cell anemia, which included an interview with Dr. Drame and a patient living with the condition. Dr. Drame provided expertise as the “guest of the day,” supplying the medical context and an overview of how Guinea is coping (or not) with an expanding sickle cell problem. A planned 10-minute chat turned into 40 minutes, with details on symptoms and other aspects of the condition.

Mohamed Bah is the reporter who interviewed Dr. Drame. He says: “I knew about the disease. I have talked to people who have it. But I never knew it was on the scale it is in Guinea or how difficult treatment can be. You learn new things every day in this job. Each medical topic has its own particularities.”

Covering health issues is important to many broadcasters, but they often make the same mistakes, says Jeremie Soupou, a senior Internews trainer. He adds, “Often stations will have a health problem in their lineup, but too often they fall back on just interviewing a doctor, usually the same one, in the studio for an hour.” He says this does not make for great radio.

Broadcasters with Ebola Chrono and Ebola Chrono Plus not only leave the studio to interview individuals affected by the issues they are covering, but they have also added an interactive component. “A vous la parole” (Over to you), is a segment that asks listeners to call in with their own medical questions. A team of doctors provides accessible, straightforward replies.

Reporter Sidigbe Conde is frequently responsible for this segment. He says: “Often [the listeners] want something explained, but don’t know where to get an answer. People are often reluctant to go to the hospital, so they end up taking advice from strangers or just trying out different types of medication. With A vous la parole, they can get the answers they want.”

Of course, it’s important that answers be easily understood, not least because they are broadcast to a mass audience, who are often tuning in to a local language version of the show.

As Mr. Conde says, “Experts can often use very technical terms, which even as health journalists we do not understand, so how will ordinary people get any benefit from their answers?”

The broadcasters with Ebola Chrono Plus know they need to serve their listening audience, and so make an effort to hear from their audience and ask questions on their behalf to the people who can best answer them—experts or ordinary people with lived expertise. In the end, they are working to create informative and entertaining radio.

This article was produced from a story originally published by Internews entitled “Don’t be afraid to ask: Addressing health questions in post-Ebola Guinea.” To read the original story, go to: https://medium.com/local-voices-global-change/dont-be-afraid-to-ask-addressing-health-questions-in-post-ebola-guinea-dd705e12817d

Photo: Reporter from Ebola Chrono interviews a source for their health program / Credit: Internews