[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
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
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.