Celebrate Solutions: Rwandan Radio Drama Raises National Health Awareness

By: Harshi Hettige, Women Deliver

Urunana, a Rwandan radio soap, is raising national sexual and reproductive health awareness by broadcasting health information weekly to approximately 10 million people. The engaging plots regularly draw 74% of Rwanda’s population to tune into new episodes twice a week.

The show addresses subjects that are often met with silence: HIV and AIDS, family planning, domestic violence, and rape. Where the national average life expectancy is 55 years old and the number of maternal deaths is ranked 145th out of 180, it is vital that Rwandans learn about topical health issues. According to organizers, the radio soap has influenced the national HIV infection rate to drop from 11% to 3% of the population over the last decade.

Urunana was initiated by Health Poverty Action, which works to strengthen poor and marginalized people in their struggle for health. In 1999, they set up the non-governmental organization Urunana Development Communication to produce and broadcast the radio show in the African Great Lakes region. The project was aimed at improving the sexual and reproductive health of 100,000 rural women and young people in Southern Rwanda.

In addition to winning international awards and lifting the show’s actors to national fame, the show made life-saving information easily accessible and entertaining. Live shows put on by the actors in rural areas attracted crowds of 10,000 people at once and encouraged sensitive health issues to be addressed in an interactive forum. In order to expand the show’s audience, Health Poverty Action distributed radios to listener groups in remote rural communities in the Southern Province of Rwanda.

Urunana’s storylines and content is driven by listeners’ health concerns. Researchers visit audience groups in Rwandan villages to discuss prominent health issues and gain feedback about the program. The insights are incorporated into the scripts and are also shared with local and national health officials to help inform health policy.

Organizers say that in Rwanda, there are 101 radios for every one television set, making it the dominant medium in the country. Since Urunana has been on the air, 36% of the population obtains their health information primarily through the radio.

Learn more about Health Poverty Action here and more about Urunana here.

Flickr photograph via ENOUGH Project.

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