Communicating about COVID-19 vaccines on air

A Burkinabe broadcaster wearing a face mask sits in front of three computer monitors in a broadcasting studio

Malian farmer Achata Traore decided to get her COVID-19 vaccine after listening to a radio program on Radio Uyesu, a station that broadcasts from Koutiala, in southern Mali.

Since she listens avidly to Radio Uyesu, she trusted the station to provide accurate information about the COVID-19 virus and vaccine.

“When they came to vaccinate us, I was really worried,” Achata explained. “But I remembered the advice on Radio Uyesu programs. I got vaccinated.”

Achata did not stop at getting herself vaccinated: she also encouraged her family and the members of her farmers’ association to get the vaccine. Achata estimates that 70 to 80 per cent of residents of her small town, Zangasso, ended up getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Using radio to increase vaccine confidence in sub-Saharan Africa

Radio Uyesu’s COVID-19 programming was part of Farm Radio’s larger Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale (VACS) project. This nine-month project, funded by Global Affairs Canada, empowered more than 200 radio stations in 16 sub-Saharan African countries to run informational campaigns about COVID-19.

Sitting in Canada, it can be easy to forget that not everyone has been so fortunate when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. At the last count, 83.1 per cent of Canadians had received at least one dose. That number is only 32.6 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, even after significant effort by African governments, the World Health Organization and other parties to increase vaccine supply and counter misinformation about the vaccine.

Through the VACS project, Farm Radio provided radio resources in more than 20 languages to help broadcasters communicate accurately and effectively with their community about the COVID-19 vaccine. The most common resource formats were answers to frequently asked questions and radio spots (short announcements). Overall, the VACS project aimed to boost vaccine confidence in sub-Saharan Africa, while supporting general COVID-19 prevention and furthering gender equality.

Adapting COVID-19 content to the local context

Radio stations designed campaigns with their local context and listeners in mind, and they weren’t afraid to get creative. Stations hosted interviews and call-in shows, developed social media campaigns and radio dramas, and broadcast songs and poems. Radio stations aired these segments on a variety of programs and time slots to reach the widest possible audience with their vital public health messages. This approach required the whole station team to collaborate closely.

Our Burkina Faso staff engaged a production company to write and record a song promoting vaccination against COVID-19, which featured key messages in two national languages, Mooré and Dioula. Each of the 14 partner radio stations was asked to play the song at least nine times per week, resulting in an astounding 1,134 broadcasts over the course of the campaign.

You can listen to the song below and discover more samples from radio stations’ vaccine confidence campaigns on SoundCloud in English and French.

A song promoting vaccination against COVID-19, broadcast by radio stations in Burkina Faso

We’re always amazed at our radio partners’ creativity in adapting Farm Radio resources and campaigns to their local context. In this case, reaching millions of rural Africans with public health information in local languages to help them make informed decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

About the project

The Life-saving Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale in sub-Saharan Africa, or VACS, project is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada. Through the VACS project, Farm Radio International is working with radio stations across 16 countries and in 20 languages in sub-Saharan Africa to support COVID-19 prevention efforts, increase vaccine confidence and further gender equality.

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