Sector Wide Approach to Strengthening Health ( SWASTH )

Bihar Technical Assistance Support Team (BTAST)
Government of Bihar initiative supported by Department for International Development, UK

 
 

Communities find knowledge through community radio

The radio station at KVK Barh has generated considerable awareness among people on issues like seasonal diseases, safe childbirth and the importance of using toilets

“Community radio is the voice for the voiceless

Community radio is the repository of knowledge and science

Through the community and through their language

Community radio provides solution to the social problems.”

                                                                                      --Radio jockey at community radio station, KVK Barh

This motto guides Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Barh community radio, based in Patna district of Bihar, which was initially set up on May 17, 2011 to disseminate information on agriculture-related issues but is now being increasingly used to air programmes on issues of health, nutrition and hygiene, through support from the Bihar Technical Assistance and Support Team (BTAST).
 
The station runs on 91.2 FM radio band with programmes aired for four hours in a day. One and half hours of programmes are aired in the morning and two and half hours in the evening. Swasth Charcha is a half an hour programme that airs dramas, talks, discussions and interviews on health, nutrition and hygiene with a special focus on women and children. Discussions are usually on topics such as contagious and seasonal diseases, ante-natal care, safe childbirth, post-natal care, newborn care, infant and child nutrition, Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Day (VHSND), sanitation and hygiene practices and so on.
 
These programmes have played a positive role in sensitising the community on various aspects. For example, lack of toilets and their disuse when available, is a huge issue in Bihar. This is known to lead to school drop-outs and poor attendance, particularly amongst girls who have attained puberty. One of the primary schools in the area where the programmes are being aired has a pucca toilet within its boundary, but this remained locked-up and was meant for teachers’ use only, as per the school rules. This situation was brought to the notice of the radio jockeys running the SWASTH supported community radio programme, and was then discussed and aired on the local community radio. The radio jockeys also ensured that the community in the villages surrounding the school listened to the show through their Radio Listeners Club. At a follow up visit to the Listener’s Club the radio jockeys found that the local community strongly felt that students and especially girls should be allowed to use the toilet. A group of local influential people from the community visited the school authority and advocated for the toilets to be accessed by students as well. Recognising the demand from the community the school subsequently now allows the students to use the toilet. 
 
Mritunjay– the radio jockey motivates members from the local community to join as speakers at the station. Local people gather regularly at the station to record programmes on women’s education, health and other development issues. They are joined by the Sarpanch (village headman), ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife), ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) and social workers to discuss how education can create awareness among women on issues of health and hygiene. 
 
Interviews with doctors and experts are viewed as credible sources of information by the community. Similarly the involvement of ANMs and ASHAs helps to establish that the information provided through the radio programmes is authentic. The speakers go back to their own villages and encourage the villagers to listen to the programme. Both Hindi and Magahi languages are used to develop radio programmes by participants.
 
Sudha - an ANM in the area, observes that the community radio station has been able to create greater awareness among the community about mother’s and children’s health. She says that even when there are other sources of entertainment, radios continue to be popular. Many older people in the community usually have radio sets that they use to listen to community radio programmes. 
 
“I have noticed that now the community is aware of the services available at VHSND. They know that VHSND is held at the Anganwadi Centre every week where advice is provided on issues such as immunisation of children, feeding practices and food habits for pregnant and new mothers and children between the ages of 0-6 years. I have also participated in radio programmes. The programme had focused on ante-natal care,” says an excited Sudha.
 
The community radio station in Barh has developed listener groups among communities. A group of high school girls say, “We use our mobile phones to listen to radio programmes. We regularly listen to the programme- Swasth Charcha, which advises us about the importance of safe drinking water, washing hands before eating, and other hygiene practices and the need for including fruits in our diet. The girls had been invited to participate in a radio programme that was aired on anti-tobacco day. One of them enthusiastically sang the jingle she had developed for the programme. In their own words, they like listening to the radio station because, “we get to hear our own people speaking through this radio station. This is the best thing about this radio station.”
 
Another popular programme is Dr Chacha, which focuses on the subject of drug addiction. It delivers powerful messages that create awareness on the ill-effects of drug abuse. Such radio dramas generate listener interest through an engaging and interesting manner. Given the content and the presentation of the programmes, it is little wonder that the radio station is emerging as a catalyst for positive change in rural Bihar. Community radio officials report that there now seems to be a better awareness among community members on issues like female foeticide, colostrum feeding and the importance of using toilets.
 
Bihar is one of the first states to constitute a commission for the poorest among Dalits, called the State Mahadalit Commission. The state distributed six lakh radio sets among Mahadalits to make information on various government schemes accessible to marginalised groups. In Bihar, the success of community radio depends not only to the extent to which the radio has been able to include the Mahadalit communities in listener groups, but also on how actively it has involved them in producing radio programmes. In 2011, KVK, started with approximately 40 listener groups in Barh and 10 more new groups were started in 2014. The radio station at KVK Barh has been successful reaching out to some of these marginalised communities, with targeted health, nutrition and water and sanitation related knowledge.
 
Success here seems to be driven by some key factors. When the community hears its own people speaking they are able to easily connect their real-life experiences with the discussions. Secondly, the programmes also raise the profile of the frontline service providers by making their work not only more credible but also accountable and hence generates interest from the providers too. The community not only participates in recording the radio programmes but is also beginning to manage the radio station, which is important for building the interest and instilling a sense of ownership. 
 
Footnote:
SWASTH programme aims to improve the health and nutritional status of people of Bihar by increasing access to better quality health, nutrition, and water and sanitation services particularly for the underserved groups. The focus of this programme is to strengthen the systems through better planning, organizational strengthening & human resource management, decentralization and convergence among key departments. The programme also uses community level processes to manage, demand and monitor services.