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Success story on radio magazine broadcast.

COVID-19 hit the globe in late 2019. It started in Wuhan in China and quickly spread around the world and soon became a global pandemic. As a result, World Health Organization declared it as a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020. As a result, WHO issued COVID-19 protocols that should be followed to reduce the spread of the virus.

This protocols include wearing facemasks, washing hands regularly with soap and water, hand sanitizing, social distancing and avoiding crowd. This led to complete or partial lockdown and closure of borders, schools and other social events in an attempt to curtail the spread of the virus. The consequences of this, however, are obvious; economic meltdown, restrictions of movement and interactions, schoolchildren not going to school and loss of employment among others.

According to WHO, as of 4th March 2021, there are 114,853,685 confirmed cases and 2,554,694 deaths worldwide. And in South Sudan, there are 8,414 confirmed cases and 100 deaths. However, due to low testing capacity and people’s attitude towards COVID-19, cases and deaths are likely to be higher than has been officially reported. The search for a vaccine has been long, but some pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and University of Oxford EstraZeneca have so far received approval to roll out their COVID-19 vaccines.

However, logistical challenges will prove difficult for some countries to access these vaccines according to health experts. Poor countries will also not be able to access these vaccines to inoculate their citizens. Following COVID-19 protocols, therefore, remains the only viable option.

South Sudan registered its first case in April 2020 and as a result, the government moved quickly to announce a partial lockdown and form National COVID-19 Task Force to manage the pandemic and educate the public on ways to prevent or reduce the spread of the virus. However, dire economic conditions, attitude of the people towards the disease, misinformation and myths prevalent in the communities about the disease, people oftentimes flout the COVID-19 protocols.

This plus lack of resilience because of the economic crisis as a result of the war prompted the government to decide to lift the partial lockdown, hence leading to a spike in cases and deaths during the second wave of COVID-19. A few months later, government announced another lockdown due to an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths in South Sudan.

Many NGOs took it upon themselves to educate the public by creating awareness on how COVID-19 spreads, its symptoms and what to do to reduce the spread of the disease. AMALNA South Sudan with support from Free Press Unlimited received some grants from the consortium implementing the EU funded project, “COVID-19 Response in Africa; Together for Reliable Information” that is being implemented in 17 countries in Africa, to create awareness among South Sudanese communities, especially vulnerable population, on COVID-19. In South Sudan, this project known as “Your Voice Matters (YVM)”, aims tof produce and transmit weekly radio magazines to disseminate essential and timely information on COVID-19 for awareness raising as well as promoting policy change in South Sudan during the times of the pandemic.

The project started with recruitment and training of 8 freelance journalists from different parts of South Sudan, including Upper Nile State, Jonglei State, Eastern Equatoria State, Central Equatoria State, Western Equatoria State and Lakes State, and deployed them in their states to conduct interviews and collect COVID-19 stories. These interviews were conducted with health experts from government institutions and other partners, government officials and local citizens. AMALNA used these stories to develop and produce 10 radio magazines of 15 minutes each, covering different topics related to COVID-19.

AMALNA also partnered with selected community radio stations across the country, including Eye Radio in Juba, Radio Emmanuel in Torit, Spirit FM in Yei, Don Bosco Radio in Tonj, Radio Good News in Rumbek, Nile FM in Malakal, Radio Jonglei in Bor and Anisa FM in Yambio, to broadcast these magazines and collect audience feedback to measure the impact of the project and to inform project decisions and programming. AMALNA South Sudan also deployed 2 community volunteers in Juba and Bor to carry out outreach activities in their communities. These outreach activities include, focus group discussions to get people’s perception of the disease, awareness creation sessions, listening group sessions and discussions, and monitoring people’s adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

The broadcast of the weekly magazines is ongoing over 10-radio station across South Sudan. A sample of audience feedback collected was analysed by AMALNA’s Monitoring and Evaluation team and the feedback indicate change in people’s attitudes toward and perception of the disease among different communities across South Sudan and are calling on government, partners and communities to take some actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The following are some key audience feedback:

A sample of key audience feedback taken from two radio stations on episodes 1, 2 &3 from Eye Radio and Nile FM is summarised below:

The selected radio stations have started broadcasting the radio magazines, each magazine per week for 10 weeks and airing this program is ongoing. For this story, we have taken a sample of audience feedback from 2 radio stations to paint the picture of how the program is contributing to change in peoples’ attitudes and practices. The two radio stations include Eye Radio with listenership of 900,000 and Nile FM with listenership of 70,000. Eye Radio has so far broadcast 2 episodes and Nile FM has broadcast 3 episodes. Forty-three (43) feedbacks were collected and analysed from the call ins after every broadcast of the program over the two radio stations. The audience feedback received so far is categorised into appreciation of the program by listeners, what listeners think are the effects of COVID-19 and a call to action.

Appreciation: relevance of the program

26 listeners, which constitutes 60.5% of the listeners who called in said that AMALNA program is very good as it is creating awareness on how COVID-19 spreads and what needs to be done to prevent or reduce the spread of the disease.

“I appreciate AMALNA COVID-19 program which is aired on Nile FM. The program will raise more awareness to the community about COVID-19 on how to stop spreading of the disease. For example, if someone is sick with COVID 19, it is better for that person to remain at home, to stop the spreading of the disease,” John Amum from Malakal PoC said.

“Your program is so nice and it pleased me so much, for us in Reng here, we don’t have WHO but we always do get information only on Eye Radio,” said Emmanuel from Renk.

“AMALNA program will raise more awareness in term of precautionary measures as there is a second round of covid-19 spreads which is ongoing,” Aban Gwang from Malakal PoC added.

Effects of COVID-19

Of all the 43 listeners who called in, 20 listeners, representing 46.5% highlighted the effects of COVID-19 on the communities of South Sudan. The listeners, indeed confirmed that during lockdown, many girls got impregnated or married and forgot about going back to school.

They also said there were many rape cases reported and an increase in economic hardships, schoolchildren engaging in harmful behaviours because of idleness and many schoolchildren losing interest in school. They also argued that misconception and misinformation about the disease has made some people ignore the existence of COVID-19 and because of economic conditions, many people cannot afford to buy facemasks.

King Caller from Yambio had this to say, “children are not able to go back to school and girls are the most affected ones, as they got nothing to do, I am seeing most of them got pregnant already and this is as a result of idleness at home as they have nothing to do and end up getting involved in doing wrong things that cannot help their future and this is big challenge because if tomorrow the lock down end, these girls cannot return to school again more especially if you have parents who cannot care.”

David from Kuacjok said, “Covid-19 got a lot of impact that are not even supposed to be managed by the Country, since the lock down, there have been problems that rise in all countries every day and night and as I speak to you, I have one of my daughter who have been impregnated during this lock down. All girls became reluctant and school children have forgotten about schools as they are not busy anymore.”

Call to action

67.4% of the callers called on government, partners and parents to play their role in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on schoolchildren and community members. Some suggested that government should reopen schools and enforce strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

They called on government and partners to enforce COVID-19 guidelines and distribute facemasks and handwashing facilities as common people cannot afford them due to the current economic conditions. In addition, they called on government to introduce online and radio learning programs to engage children until schools reopen.

They also called on partners to create more awareness to dispel the prevalent misinformation and misconception about the disease. For parents, they urged them to control their children by engaging them in household chores, hiring teachers to teach them at home and enforcing rules at home.

David, a caller from Kuacjok, had this to say, “I think parents should teach their children during this lock down with house chores, parents should also engage their children because it is parents time to play a big role here; they can even involve a teacher to come and coach at home for instance every afternoon to keep children busy.”

Emmanuel Panadol, a caller from Mauna said, “I am urging us South Sudanese, school children and teachers to start practicing how to use face masks, all of us even though lock down ends, we need to teach our children habit of wearing facemasks, it should be part of our lives such that we can prevent other diseases from attacking us.”

Lukwata from Mauna said, “these health doctors are the ones supposed to request for masks for people and distribute but this is not happening and even if they were given, it is not seen more especially in my area here, I have never seen any mask being distributed, for example, some people eat once a day and cannot afford to buy mask, don’t you think this is a way of killing poor people if we don’t help them out with preventive measure’s necessities? People don’t wear masks because they can’t afford, the little you get is to sustain your stomach.”

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