In Uganda, Grassroots Radio Bridges Health Care Gaps

These interactive talk shows give ordinary citizens, including the rural poor, a chance to engage policy makers on access to healthcare.

For rural, low income Ugandans, access to health information and to basic health services is limited. Most remain unaware of their health rights, and educational outreach is hampered by low levels of literacy.

That’s where community radio steps in.

In Uganda, radio remains one of the most popular tools in homes because it is an efficient way of delivering information to people—rich or poor, literate or illiterate, adult or young—both in cities and rural areas. Community radio stations also draw content from newspapers and the internet to deliver a variety of information and to ensure regular updates on current affairs.

The Action Group for Health Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA) is a health-rights advocacy organization operating across Uganda with support from the Open Society Foundations. It uses community radio for civic education and to promote dialogue between health experts, the government, and civil society.

Dennis Odwe, AGHA’s executive director, says that in Uganda, “Radio is a very influential tool for empowering citizens to learn about their health human rights and demand better health services.”

Founded in 2003 by a group of concerned health professionals, AGHA has mobilized hundreds of members and fostered local and national networks. AGHA has also conducted health, human rights, and advocacy trainings and brought human rights awareness to key health and policymaking bodies.

“Integrating community radio in our work has helped us to bridge the gap between the people at the grassroots level and the leaders,” says Claire Mugisha, a program assistant. “We invite health experts, local leaders, and village health team representatives to our radio talk shows to discuss health issues and complaints we gather from the communities.”

During the shows listeners can call in or text, asking questions or sharing their opinions on air. These interactive talk shows give ordinary citizens, including the rural poor, a chance to engage policy makers on access to healthcare.

“Some of the patients didn’t know that they could get certain services at our hospitals. AGHA’s work has helped to link HIV and AIDS clients to the health centers,” says Dr. Godfrey Mulekwa, a district health officer in Pallisa. “AGHA has also trained health management committees at the grassroots level about their responsibilities."

Despite this, community radio is increasingly under threat.

President Museveni has promised to close radio stations that “host indisciplined civilians.” The Uganda Communications Commission suspended two radio talk shows focusing on social accountability and service delivery.

Moves like these have increased pressure and scrutiny on activists who use radio to promote government accountability and citizen participation.

In addition to the political pressure, organizations are facing creative obstacles. Many civil society organizations in Uganda are finding it more challenging to create programming that engages the general public, and to do so in a way that encourages active participation in social movements.

But despite these challenges, radio remains the most convenient, affordable, and effective method of communication and source of information for rural Ugandans.

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Would more transistor radio help most villages? If so I can raise fund to purchase radios. I need a rough estimate of how many is needed. ASAP

@Roger, yes transistor radios would be helpful for people in rural areas who don't own a radio set.

It is really heartwarming to see those people in the grassroots level work their way out to promote health and wellness in the society. HIV and AIDS may be prevalent nowadays but with a matter of proper health promotion and education, the people will be fully aware of how to prevent these diseases. If only health care systems will focus more on health education, this world would really be better. Kudos to Uganda!

Adams Steve

Thank you Javie for this piece. Indeed, community radio is now a "life line" for communities to demand for service delivery in Uganda and most activists continue to find it hard to fully call for citizen participation and engage people in authority on the same. Either the costs of such radio shows are exorbitant for an activist without a budget or such activist is put under intense pressure whenever he/she seeks to promote accountability and fight corruption. This effort to demand for the right to health is commendable but where we have reached in Uganda, we need efforts to fight for virtually ALL rights. As a human rights defender, these are things we seek to foster. Thank you for the good work Comrade.

Thanks for the kind comments. :)

Yes for sure, am happy to know about those who support local radios in Uganda. If it was not Kanungu Broadcasting Services in south western Uganda i would not know about reproductive health and how to protect my self from being infected with HIV/AIDS. Some programs on these radios also helps to be innovative and start community based organizations

Thank you open society foundation for the good work. it's true alot of Ugandans do not know their rights but with the help of radio stations they learn alot. I wanted to open a community radio station in entebbe but failed because I didn't have enough equipment.

Thank you Open Society a journalist and i know the importance of media towards rejuvenating the health sector.Many cases have been reported and state acts.How i wish these programs continue

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