6 December 2012
The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society has launched a new weapon in the fight against cholera – a straight-talking weekly radio show, broadcasting all over the country and dismantling myths about the deadly disease.
Sierra Leone is a country of radio-lovers. Almost 80 per cent of the population listens to the radio, and with the Red Cross show broadcasting on the national station, this platform makes it possible to communicate life-saving information to millions of people at a time. As Patrick Massaquoi, communication officer with the Sierra Leone Red Cross and host of the show, said: “The speed of radio allows us to be closer to the population.”
Haja Kultumi Karim, Sierra Leone Red Cross health co-ordinator, explains why this is urgent: “There are a lot of misconceptions about cholera in Sierra Leone, for example that the disease is spread through the air or that drinking gin will cure you.
“While these might seem funny, they can be deadly. People won’t wash their hands if they think cholera is airborne, or go to a hospital when they get sick if they believe gin is all they need. We have also looked at the link between food and cholera, which research shows is little understood by the population.”
The hour-long show, developed with the support of the British Red Cross, encourages listeners to call in on toll-free numbers and ask questions, to get involved in the fight against the disease.
Experts are interviewed and different issues are covered each week. While cholera is top of the agenda, it has also covered information and advice on topics like providing first aid at car accidents and HIV.
Since the show launched in October, it has had an average of 10 calls per show, and has been commended by the Ministry of Health for promoting in-depth public discussion of these issues.
Solar power empowers communities
The Sierra Leone Red Cross is going further to ensure this information gets to those who need it. Five hundred wind-up, solar-powered radios, donated by the New Zealand Red Cross, have been given to volunteers in remote communities, where access to information is often difficult and radio batteries unaffordable.
These volunteers are encouraging community groups to make a weekly event of listening to the show. Families, friends and neighbours can discuss and share information on what they’ve heard, and develop plans to make positive changes in their communities.
Patrick Massaquoi explained: “These solar-powered radios will ensure that no matter how much money someone has in their pocket they will still have access to information whenever they need it – whether it’s a warning of an impending flood or practical advice on preventing malaria.”
Find out more about our work in Sierra Leone