People around the world have been affected by and preoccupied with coronavirus for most of this year. It has suddenly become the primary subject of local radio programs and a central theme of many broadcasts on international, national, and local radio stations.
The first case of COVID-19 appeared in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on March 10, 2020. In North Kivu province, the first case was announced on May 1, 2020. As of September 25, the DRC had recorded 10,555 confirmed cases, including 271 deaths.
These figures are the official ones. In the DRC at the moment, it is not possible to expand testing because resources are very limited. Thus, it is difficult to determine the exact number of people who are infected and who have died from COVID-19.
The fight against this pandemic has been a priority in almost all areas. Radio stations in particular have taken up the cause by broadcasting vital information to keep their listeners safe and healthy.
Congolese political leaders are aware of the danger, given the death rate linked to COVID-19 in Europe and America. They have therefore put in place several measures to limit the spread of the pandemic. Among these is a ban on gatherings of more than 20 people. This has made radio more popular and religious groups and other organizations are vying for space on the radio to reach their members.
Augustin Kinduvuyira is the director of Radio Télévision Evangélique et de Développement Hermoni, which broadcasts from the city of Kiwanja, in Rutsuru territory, North Kivu province. He explains: “As meetings are prohibited, this has made radio space the liaison between citizens and administrators. The latter use the radio to broadcast their press releases, press briefings on COVID-19 barrier measures, and other decisions.” This situation, he says, “has prompted us to remove seven programs from the program schedule in favor of programs on COVID-19.”
Laurent Mwema is the interim program director of Sauti ya Injili Radio in Goma. He says, “The pandemic currently occupies around 80% of the programs on our schedule.”
Stanley Muhindo is the director of radio programs at Moto Oicha in Beni territory. He notes: “We were forced to cancel the 7:30 am RFI re-broadcast for current reasons. Besides that, there are also school broadcasts that have been included in our schedule to support the education of schoolchildren confined to their homes.”
At Masisi Community Radio, four broadcasts were removed from the schedule, says Germain Mwenyemali, director of the station.
Jérémie Kihambu is the program director at Tayna Community Radio in Goma. He says that several slots in the schedule have been ceded to partners who have funded programs linked to COVID-19.
Kennedy Wema, director of Radio Soleil Butembo, says: “The radio [station] has just adapted its program to integrate programs on the coronavirus. The radio program is flexible depending on the context. There were spaces on the music [programs], and we had to fill them and also extend broadcasting hours sometimes.”
Jacques Kikuni is director of Radio Muungano Beni. He says that programs have fallen off the schedule to make way for those dealing with the coronavirus. But he regrets that the global health crisis has meant that some listeners can no longer listen to shows they really liked.
But what about other diseases? The coronavirus arrived as several areas of North Kivu were facing other illnesses that are decimating the population. These include anemia, which caused 16% of deaths in 2019, and malaria, which was at the root of 14% of deaths. Cardiovascular diseases and AIDS were also significant causes of death in 2019. Statistics from the provincial health division in North Kivu also show that more than 361,000 people were affected by diarrhea, 250,000 by sexually transmitted infections, 201,000 with urinary tract infections, and 49,000 from dental issues.
Apart from the much-talked-about Ebola, diseases other than COVID-19 receive little air time. But even if we don’t talk about them, adds Kennedy Wema, director of Soleil de Butembo, “these diseases are realities in health centres here at home. These are very important themes for listeners, but about which the radio can’t produce programming for lack of research resources.”
Jean Maliro is the director of Radio Lubero Sud in Lubero territory in North Kivu. He says that a lack of expertise prevents broadcasters from producing health broadcasts. Sometimes it is difficult to access the internet in rural areas. Also, access to resource persons is difficult. He adds, “We need the support of certain partners in order to overcome these difficulties and produce these programs.”
Mustapha Mulonda is the director of Radio la Voix of the official university of Semuliki. He says that one problem is that certain experts request funds to cover the costs of transport as encouragement to participate in the program, but that the radio station often can’t bear these costs. This means that they can’t address these health issues.
Janvier Kubuya is the head of the provincial health division in North Kivu. He says, “The population should know that COVID-19 is contagious and can attack several people at the same time.” But other people wonder why it should be a priority if it hasn’t yet killed many people in the DRC.
Mr. Kubuya says, “Yes, we also put a lot of effort into it because adults, especially those with chronic illnesses, can’t resist it.” He asks, “Who among the young people can accept to remain an orphan because both of their parents died of COVID-19?”
Community radio stations in North Kivu remain an important channel for educating the population about good health. Meanwhile, the health system in the DRC is fragile. Access to quality health care is a problem for thousands of families in North Kivu, an area where people in some regions live in poverty because of the ongoing conflict. Several health facilities have been abandoned and others are inaccessible because of the insecurity that has raged in eastern Congo for several decades.
This story was originally published by CORACON, a collective of community radio and television in North Kivu, DRC. To learn more about how CORACON is addressing COVID-19 and other local issues, go to: https://coracondrc.com/