Community radios for Ebola control

The need for community radio licences

In response to the Ebola virus disease, the WHO emergency committee is considering whether the unfolding threat amounts to an international public health emergency. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention EOC has moved its activation to the highest level, an action it last took during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, while the Nigerian Government has also declared a red alert. With this unfolding scenario, we need to consider all measures to contain the disease. Nigeria should no longer delay the approval of licences for community radios.

The importance of local information

Recently, the absence of effective public communication allowed a rumour to spread about the curative powers of salt water and bitter kola. This type of misinformation can be quickly checked through appropriate messages on community radios – a very localized medium under the control of its people using their language. The widening distrust between the public and healthcare professionals is a major obstacle in the containment of this disease. In Uganda during a similar health care crisis, a simple but highly effective approach was employed to gain the trust of people through intensive communication using community radio. The role of local community and traditional leaders was recognized and they worked closely with health care staff to convey appropriate information.

Streamlining the process.

The process of obtaining community radio licences has so far been made so difficult as to be beyond the reach of the communities that need it most. Those Nigerians who will most benefit from community radio health messages do not have access to newspapers, television or social media whereas they do have access to a transistor radio. The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Communication needs to rise up to the Ebola challenge by working closely with civil societies to streamline the application process while retaining essential checks to prevent abuse.

Community radio provides the Government and health officials with a cost–effective medium to communicate essential information in the peoples’ dialects. Let us grab this opportunity to save lives. It is time Nigeria activated community radios nationwide to help prevent the spread of this deadly disease.

 

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