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Uganda: Broadcasting a message to remote northern communities


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

KITGUM, 11 Oct 2006 (IRIN/PLUSNEWS) - Trained AIDS counsellors are few and far between in war-damaged northern Uganda, so relief agencies are turning to a local radio station to broadcast messages on prevention, treatment and care.

Twenty years of fighting and virtually non-existent road networks have left Kitgum District isolated and beyond the reach of government HIV/AIDS programmes that have successfully reversed infection rates in the rest of the country.

But in 2005 a local businessman launched Radio Kitti. Broadcasting from a house converted into a tiny studio in Kitgum town, it is virtually the only source of news for thousands of vulnerable people displaced by fighting between government troops and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Northern Uganda has an HIV prevalence of about nine percent, one-and-a-half times the national average. Health workers say information is crucial to prevent new infections and ensure that those already infected seek treatment.

"The IDPs [internally displaced persons] near Kitgum are well informed," said Robert Ochola, coordinator of HIV/AIDS activities at St. Joseph's Mission Hospital in Kitgum, but beyond the town, in districts closer to the Sudanese border, "people are not properly informed" and behaviour is changing more slowly.

"The feedback we are getting is telling us that people are still sharing sharp instruments and practicing cultural traditions like wife inheritance, which increase the risk of HIV transmission," he said. "From what we know ... the people abducted by the LRA know little about AIDS."

Kitti FM is doing what is can on a shoestring. "We have a monthly show, which is 45 minutes long. We bring in health workers and use half the programme to talk about our chosen topic, say ARVs [antiretroviral] drugs, and the other half to field phone calls from callers," said station manager Lucy Acii.

"We have received a very positive response, since we know radio is the way most IDPs get their information - from news to entertainment - so we are now also educating them about one of the biggest killers," she added.

At Akwang camp, half-an-hour's drive from Kitgum, a group of HIV-positive IDPs said Kitti FM was important to help them spread the word about the dangers of unprotected sex.

"We don't have any VCT [voluntary counselling and testing] in this camp, and so we need the radio. It is the only way we can hear about AIDS," said Patrick Onen, secretary of the Akwang group of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"Also, we are very poor in the camps and don't always have money to buy a radio, and when we do have radios, we don't have money to buy batteries for them."

Unfortunately, the programme had not been broadcast for the past two months. Acii acknowledged the problem of keeping AIDS messaging on the air, but said the monthly show depended on the goodwill of NGO's health workers in the region, who volunteered their time.

Nevertheless, the station intended making an arrangement with local NGOs to help ensure regular programmes and, where possible, increase the number of shows, given the demand by listeners.


Copyright © 2006 -Integrated Regional Information Network, Publisher. All rights reserved to Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) . Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the Integrated Regional Information Network.

Information in this article was accurate in October 11, 2006. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.