In Uganda, Grassroots Radio Bridges Health Care Gaps
By Javie Ssozi
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.
Javie Ssozi is a Ugandan-based consultant for the Public Health Program’s Health Media Initiative and a citizen journalist who runs the blog The African Timer.