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2016-08_dc

26 D+C  e-Paper  August 2016 Boosting health care in rural areas is a serious challenge. Involving local radio stations can help. In northern Uganda, a local FM station supports the fight against leprosy. By Olaf Hirschmann and Herman Joseph Kawuma Most people in Uganda, including health profes- sionals, think leprosy is extinct, an ancient dis- ease from biblical times. They are wrong. From 2008 to 2012, 1500 new cases were diagnosed, and two thirds were reported in the country’s comparatively poor north, a region with a very low population den- sity that is traumatised by 20 years of war inflicted by a militia called the Lord’s Resistance Army. It also has the comparatively high prevalence of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Over 100 years after the mycobacterium leprae was first identified, leprosy is still prevalent in many countries, and the ways of transmission are still not understood. The disease affects skin and nerves. Nerve damage leads to the characteristic loss of sen- sibility, first affecting the extremities and later causing the loss of fingers and toes. Even facial features can be disfigured as the illness progresses. Leprosy can be cured with simple antibiotics that do not cost much. The therapy takes six to twelve months. If the loss of limbs is to be prevented, how- ever, the disease must be diagnosed and treated early on. This is the way to prevent lifelong suffering. Depressingly, however, many patients spend years going from one quack healer to the next incompe- tent health provider, until the destruction of limbs becomes too obvious to miss the diagnosis. Even many scientifically-trained health workers fail to identify the disease when they see the skin patches. Therefore, information and awareness raising are par- amount in the fight against this age-old disease. The main challenges of leprosy control are: ■ ■ a lack of community awareness, ■ ■ delays in the diagnosis, ■ ■ the hidden and growing presence of leprosy in so called ‘hot spots’, ■ ■ the diminishing knowledge and skills of health workers and ■ ■ patients dropping out from treatment regimes. To ensure impact, the Talking Health programme, which was designed to tackle leprosy in eight north- ern Ugandan districts, involved a local radio station. It was run from March 2014 to December 2015 by the German Leprosy and TB Relief Association (GLRA), a non-governmental organisation. A sub-national German government body, Nordrhein-Westfälische Stiftung zur Förderung der Leprahilfe, provided the funding. Talking Health was designed to educate people in eight districts in northern Uganda. The pro- gramme involved a local FM station Radio Wa, the district administrations and Uganda’s National TB and Leprosy Programme (NTLP). It spread general information, but also offered medical services and built capacities at local health facilities. Spreading the news About 2 million people live in the region, and almost all can receive Radio Wa, which has been running health programmes for a long time. In the context of Talking Health, it began focusing on leprosy. Affected people shared their stories on the air, and listeners could call in and would get competent advice. Leprosy became a regular topic in Radio Wa’s health programme which is called Wa Clinic and is aired on Sundays. Presenter and guests discussed the causes and the treatment of leprosy. A radio soap opera tackled issues such as stigma and ignorance. People affected by leprosy (PALs) publicly discussed their experiences during and after treatment. They spoke about the issues of discrimi- nation and rehabilitation. Studio guests included traditional healers, faith leaders, politicians, leprosy experts and government officials. The focus on leprosy proved to be very popular, as the great number of call-ins proved. Previously, the radio programme had focused on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and malaria, and listeners were interested in the additional topic. Ra dio Wa is talking  health

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