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PMC’s Pandemic Response: Burundi, Rwanda, and Haiti

Jan 20, 2021

As COVID-19 spread rapidly around the world, it became clear that business could not go on as usual. At Population Media Center, we found ourselves responding on numerous fronts. First, early in the pandemic it was obvious that many issues we focus on were only being amplified by COVID-19, such as increasing rates of child marriage, female genital mutilation, and domestic violence.

Second, it became clear that health officials around the world needed ways to get out information about COVID-19 as the situation continued to change and as new data came to light. PMC’s shows, regardless of the focus issues, reach people every day – and often we’re reaching underserved audiences who may not have regular connections with traditional health or news sources.

Throughout COVID-19, PMC’s pre-existing network of broadcast partners and on-air entertainment has provided a meaningful way to communicate about the crucial issues we address and provide information about COVID-19. With local health departments and trusted partners like the World Health Organization and UNICEF, our teams were able to focus on storylines addressing exacerbated issues, like female genital mutilation and domestic violence, while also providing guidance for COVID-19 prevention and care.

Burundi: How Things Like Epilogues and Ebola Prepped PMC to Respond to COVID-19

Prior to the pandemic, PMC was working with UNICEF to improve Burundians’ well-being through a long-term contract implementing communication activities for behavior change around health and nutrition, water and basic hygiene, and child protection. This particular show had also included objectives related to Ebola because of continued Ebola outbreaks in Burundi.

The project included rigorous education on Ebola prevention and control measures, and it also broadcast Ebola case level alerts. The experience our Burundi team had with the Ebola efforts – and other water and sanitation programs – allowed for a quick pivot to include and disseminate COVID-19 messaging across the broadcast region.

PMC-Burundi supported the Burundian Ministry of Public Health to synergize messaging with a direct focus on COVID-19. They were able to do this with a number of tools at their disposal, including epilogues. Epilogues are short spots (often around 30 seconds) at the end of a show episode. Since our shows often run around 156 episodes, these epilogues can be customized for specific and timely services within different areas of the broadcast, like sharing resources with the audience, or promoting places for the audience to tune in to share their thoughts or questions about the show. In this case, some of the epilogues were transformed into COVID-19 spots with goals to:

Translated from Burundi’s national language, Kirundi, the following epilogue was broadcast immediately after episode 62 of PMC’s show Agashi 3 (“Hey! Look Again!”).

Through this episode 62 of the radio soap Agashi 3, Population Media Center in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and the fight against AIDS, reminds you that the COVID-19 pandemic is highly contagious and can be fatal. The pandemic is wreaking havoc in several countries around the world, including those in Asia, Europe and the United States, not to mention neighboring countries where cases of infections are already recorded. As we speak; there is no vaccine or effective treatment for the disease. Doctors take medication according to the symptoms present consisting of the following signs: fever, dry cough, unexplained fatigue, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, etc.

For this, we are asked to respect the following measures to prevent this pandemic:

-frequent handwashing with clean water and soap or with a disinfectant

-avoid greeting each other by shaking hands or kissing.

Rwanda: Entertain. Role Model. Save Lives.

In Rwanda, the team had the advantage of a new radio show launching in June of 2020 and began to weave COVID-19 into the challenges that would already be facing the characters – challenges that would put the characters in various situations related to domestic violence, family planning, reproductive health, and gender equality. For example, the character Kagoyire and her husband confront their marital issues while working together on COVID-19 prevention methods for their family.

“Although my children, like others, spent a lot of time at home due to COVID-19, I have come to realize that they learned a lot from the drama. I am even confident that they always practice preventive measures when they are at school… the dramas have been worth the time they spent at home during and after the lockdown.” –Etienne Sibomana, Rwanda Father of three

Together, PMC-Rwanda and Umurage Media Communications (UmC) developed Umurage 3 and accompanying media campaign to address the health and human rights issues at the heart of PMC’s work while also inspiring Rwandan audiences to adopt the new COVID-19 hygiene and safety protocols.

Supported by the Bergstrom Foundation, the 54-episode show broadcast across Rwanda from June 15, 2020, to December 18, 2020. Each 15-minute episode aired on four radio stations and was available on Youtube, Facebook, and Whatsapp to increase reach.

The UmC team also supplemented their text messaging and social media with timely COVID-19 public service announcements – including audio files and videos on the importance of handwashing and facemasks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Haiti: Measuring COVID-19 Impact

Zoukoutap logo

The Zoukaoutap series in Haiti, another of PMC’s long-running and popular series, also used its already existing platforms to share COVID-19 information and curb misinformation.

Zoukoutap 3 “To Limp” aired from November 2018 to July 2020 in Haitian Creole, a language spoken by 90 percent of Haitains. The 156-episode radio show, supported by Restavek Freedom and other private funders, primarily focused on domestic violence, reproductive health, and family planning. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, additional messaging accompanied the show.

During the post-show endline study, 93%of listeners reported they believe COVID-19 exists and 76% of listeners reported they knew wearing masks in public would slow the spread of COVID-19.

Democratic Republic Of The Congo: Public Service Announcements Across Platforms

PMC and the Marisla Foundation leveraged existing media platforms and relationships to distribute public service announcements. Five COVID-19 prevention PSAs were endorsed by the Congolese Ministry of Health and broadcast on 15 radio stations in five providences. The PSAs were produced in French, Kikongo, Swahili, and Lingala. UNICEF and Global Affairs Canada conducted further distribution of the PSAs, for use in their own COVID-19 prevention campaigns. Additionally, Viamo, a longtime PMC partner, distributed the PSAs on its mobile platforms, reaching 748,357 unique callers between April and December 2020.