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Fostering access to health information on COVID 19 through community radio

Key messages, daily updates, measures and guidance on COVID 19 pandemic reaching remote, marginalized, hard to reach and most vulnerable communities in Ethiopia are available through community radio.

During a crisis such as COVID-19, community radio can play a major role to these communities as the type of media that is nearest to the community. It can reach and educate communities in local languages as journalists and community volunteers live in and knew the communities better. This advantage makes a community radio station a lifeline for knowledge and connectivity to these communities.

However, the capacities of journalists and volunteers in the stations need to be empowered with current knowledge on COVID 19 and skills for effective communication. It is with this that UNESCO facilitated a virtual training for community radio journalists and volunteers in Ethiopia.

“Journalists and volunteers of community radio stations are front-liners in providing lifesaving information on COVID 19 and in facilitating communication among community members, with health authorities and officials”, says Ana Elisa Santana Afonso, Director of UNESCO Addis Ababa Office.

UNESCO supports community radio in Ethiopia to strengthen their sustainability and particularly during this crisis to play their key role in informing and educating communities. A digital communication platform was established with the community radio network on the early days of the outbreak to ensure communities at remote places receive reliable information directly from the health authorities. The platform enabled journalists to receive updates on the pandemic and key messages from the health authorities at federal and regional state levels.

Moreover, the key to ensuring that this role is played effectively is when journalists and volunteers have the necessary knowledge and skills on the basics of journalism and the crisis. In partnership with the UN Communication Group, a handbook for community radio journalists aimed at assisting journalists in the day to day operations was developed. Journalists were then trained on key issues included in the handbook, thanks to the partnership with EU so that they can use it independently. These include radio reporting during crisis, ethics, safety of journalists and debunking disinformation and fighting conspiracy theories.

Trainees appreciated the timeliness and relevance of the virtual training as they find it very enhancing and encouraging given that such opportunities are rare and pandemic has made more difficult ever.  

A representative from the Ministry of Health, Mr Melaku Abebe, head of the Community Engagement Section, provided the briefing on the state of the pandemic and the national prevention movement led by the ministry and other stakeholders.  He acknowledged the role of community radio and journalists as the primary means of mass communication to millions of people that could not be reached otherwise to assist health workers in educating the public and work closely with local authorities and health workers.

Community radio stations in Ethiopia use more than 30 local languages which are not used by mainstream national and regional radio and television broadcasters. More than 32 community radio stations currently broadcast for more than 1800hrs per week to an estimated over 20 million population across the country.

COVID 19 has affected the normal operation of economies, social interactions and even the media normal operations.  Capacity building of journalists and providing a handbook helps them enhance their role during the crisis and protect their safety.

For  more information contact Aderaw Genetu ag.tassew@unesco.org