Combatting COVID-19 myths in local languages through radio spots

David Bondo records a radio spot

David Bondo, 32, is the director of Ratego Radio, a community station based in Siaya County, Kenya. David oversees production at the station, which went on air in April 2019.

Like many stations, COVID-19 is creating unique challenges for Ratego Radio. The most important challenge David faced was deciding how to effectively communicate about COVID-19 to listeners.

To aid radio stations with this, Farm Radio International has developed a series of 19 short radio spots vetted by health experts, and funded by Global Affairs Canada. They are designed to transmit engaging and important information about COVID-19 to rural communities across Africa.

Starting in mid-June David began to translate the spots into a local language called Dholou. So far, David has translated a total of 13 spots. He airs each spot 10 to 20 times per day.

Myths, misinformation and fake news

Of all the spots, David says that those which deal with myths, misinformation, and fake news have been the most popular. He says these spots give him the most hope that COVID-19 can be easily fought as long as people follow proven public health practices like social distancing and handwashing.

Other spots help to explain these practices and encourage listeners to practice them daily. Above all, he says, the spots emphasize “the importance of using government and world health messages … and not spreading rumours,” which David says can cause more cases of COVID-19.

Spot #11 talks about the stigma and discrimination directed at people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Like rumours, stigma is dangerous—it prevents others from getting tested or seeking treatment, says David.

You can see and hear a video of the spot below, as translated and recorded by David.

Coronavirus is not a death sentence: COVID-19 Radio Spot #11.
Please note that the subtitles may not correspond exactly with the audio.

David admits that the process of translating required some work. Though fluent in English and Dholou, he says it was difficult at times to get the wording of the spots just right.

“I would use more words describing one thing [in Dholou] which has a single name in English,” he says.

But the effort was worth it. David says that airing the spots in a local language allows listeners to have a “deep understanding” of information about COVID-19.

“It is very easy for everyone to understand their first language, their mother tongue … as opposed to foreign languages which are English, Kiswahili, French, and any other language.”

He adds that, when listeners have access to the right information in their preferred language, they are less likely to believe myths, rumours, and misinformation.

“If more people get to know what they need to do and how they should do it, then the world will change.”

As well as listeners, the spots have been beneficial for Ratego Radio as well.

“Since we started giving these messages frequently through our station, listenership has risen steadily,” says David.

The recent spike in popularity has inspired David and the staff at Ratego Radio to continue producing spots themselves, using information from local health officials.

Without these Farm Radio spots, David says his station would rely more heavily on government information, which focuses less on prevention measures and more on the statistics of new and recovered cases. These are important, says David, but aren’t as useful to listeners as advice.

Following his successful experience, David encourages other broadcasters to translate spots into local languages and air them frequently.

“They should take these things as [part of their] work. If we don’t inform the public, more will be infected [with COVID-19] … If more people get to know what they need to do and how they should do it, then the world will change.”

You can read Farm Radio’s radio spots on COVID-19 here.

About the author
Hannah Tellier is a Radio Resources Assistant for Farm Radio International. A recent graduate of the University of Waterloo, Hannah believes the best classroom is the one we create while exchanging with others.

These radio spots were funded by the Scaling Her Voice on Air project, which aims to bring improved interactive radio services to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Senegal, reaching more than 7 million small-scale farmers to improve food security and gender equality. The Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, is supporting the project with a grant of $5 million over the five years of the project. With additional funding from Canada, Farm Radio International will support broadcasters across sub-Saharan Africa who provide essential pandemic-related information to remote and rural communities.

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