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Listening to listeners: Radio Tayna tunes into its audience to address COVID-19 and other illnesses

In Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Nord Kivu province, the impacts of COVID-19 persist. Thankfully, they’re matched by the diligent efforts of those trying to make a difference.

Daniel Makasi is a radio broadcaster at Radio Tayna in Goma. Since November 2019, Mr. Makasi has helped produce a program dedicated to COVID-19 called Najua Najikinga, or “I know, so I protect myself.” Mr. Makasi says the program is a platform for listeners to express their concerns and questions about COVID-19, and for experts to respond.

He says interaction is key to the program’s success. This is why Mr. Makasi uses each program as an opportunity to ask listeners for their comments, questions, and feedback. Listeners submit their messages to the station through SMS and Facebook, which Mr. Makasi and his colleagues then read aloud on air. Mr. Makasi says this builds trust between the broadcasters and listeners.

He explains, “Once a listener writes their message, they listen to the program to make sure it goes on air. When they hear their message read out loud, it gives them a lot more confidence in the station.”

Mr. Makasi says that between November 2020 and June 2021, Radio Tayna collected more than 800 comments from listeners. He says, “It made us proud to see the community interact with us.”

Mr. Makasi admits that the station often receives too many messages to read on air all at once. This is why the staff of Radio Tayna keep track of all the comments they receive from listeners—so they can be addressed at a later date. The archive of comments also acts as a guide to public opinion over time. Mr. Makasi says that experts refer to it when they speak on the radio as guests.

Mr. Makasi says that the practice also helps Radio Tayna to address myths and misinformation.

He explains, “It’s important to gather the opinions of the community because we are in an area where, at one time, there were a lot of rumours circulating, and we felt that these rumours should not stay on the street. So it was essential to address these issues on air with an expert in the studio.”

He gives the example of an episode in which a doctor answered listeners’ questions about traditional medicine and COVID-19. The expert made it clear that only COVID-19 vaccines can prevent COVID-19, and that COVID-19 cannot be cured traditionally. Other episodes dealt with myths about resistance to COVID-19 in Africa.

Mr. Makasi says that Radio Tayna does not have the means to continue with their interactive program, though they hope soon to have a partner that will sponsor it. Until then, they will continue with magazine-style programs and radio spots.

Mr. Makasi says that playing radio spots about COVID-19 every day makes sure that listeners get information about preventative measures, regardless of whether they listen to the station’s health programs. He uses a series of spots created by Farm Radio International (access them here [1]) and underlines the importance of translating COVID-19 messages into common local languages so that no listeners are left out.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Mr. Makasi says it’s still as important as ever to continue health programs, especially interactive ones. He says that interactive programming allows broadcasters to create a relationship of trust with listeners.

On the topic of COVID-19 vaccines, Mr. Makasi says Radio Tayna has done some limited programs, as vaccine availability is also limited in the region. So far, the station has raised awareness about the types of vaccines available in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mr. Makasi says the program also featured the voices of people who have been vaccinated against Ebola to talk about the importance of vaccines. This helped to ensure that there is positive messaging about vaccines on air—not just worries.

COVID-19 isn’t the only health challenge facing Goma. In the past year, the town experienced a new outbreak of Ebola. Mr. Makasi says that, while coverage of COVID-19 is important, during the pandemic, other illnesses have often been forgotten.

He adds, “Some aspects of health have been overlooked … There is not strong communication about other diseases that are causing many deaths in our area.”

Mr. Makasi says that Radio Tayna addresses this lack of information by broadcasting not one health-based program, but eight, each focused on different topics and illnesses—and in some cases, how they interact.

He says: “Through these programs, we try to touch on other diseases besides COVID-19, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we try to marry the themes. For example, when talking about diabetes, we designed a program about how COVID-19 influences people with diabetes.”

Mr. Makasi has a few words of advice for his fellow broadcasters.

He says: “The first priority is to collect a lot of comments from the community, to be attentive to what the community is saying in relation to COVID-19 … You always have to collect listeners’ comments, document them, and if possible, record them. Secondly, always approach official sources and contact experts … to answer to the rumours that are circulating in the community and to give their opinion about the evolution of the pandemic.”

Photo: Daniel Makasi in studio at Radio Tayna. Photo courtesy of Radio Tayna.