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Using radio to communicate to millions about COVID-19
Using radio to communicate to millions about COVID-19

A case study by Development Media International in Burkina Faso

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Updated over a week ago

Country: Burkina Faso

Organisation: Development Media International, (DMI)

Point person and role: Bassirou Kagone, Country Director, DMI Burkina Faso and Amy Sanders, Head of Development, DMI, UK

Population served by the programme: Approximately 20 million people live in the areas of Burkina Faso that are covered by our radio broadcasts. Radio listenership within those areas is 56%, and we estimate to have reached around 15 million people with our campaign.

Number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 at time of publishing: 1065 cases, 53 deaths.

Caption: Two men listening to the radio in Burkina Faso, where DMI hopes to reach 15 million people with COVID-19 messaging

Background of the project and unique characteristics of the setting

Approximately 75% of the population of Burkina Faso live in rural settings and 45% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day. In recent years, security issues in the north and east regions of the country have made travel to some areas unsafe. The fastest and most efficient way to reach the largest number of people outside of the capital is via radio. Burkina Faso is a multilingual country, and to reach some of the most rural populations it is necessary to broadcast in multiple languages.

Burkina Faso saw its first 2 cases of COVID-19 on the 9th March 2020, and its first confirmed fatality on 18 March (which was also the first confirmed fatality in Africa). On 20 March, the government closed airports, land borders and imposed a nationwide curfew, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 transmission. The Ministry of Health approached DMI for assistance with Risk Communication and Community Engagement.

DMI have an experienced team that has been present in the country since 2010. DMI in Burkina Faso has run large scale behaviour change campaigns on child survival and family planning which have been shown to be effective in two randomised controlled trials. The team has skills and experience in campaign strategy, research, content production and distribution. As a result they were able to mobilise quickly to deliver a COVID 19 campaign, with support from international funders such as Skoll Foundation.

Briefly describe the key components of your COVID-19 response programme.

DMI has created 24 one-minute radio spots on COVID-19. These are being broadcast over 6 months from May to October 2020 by 39 radio stations across the country. Broadcasts are 10 times a day and at peak listening times. The spots are each translated and produced in 10 local languages. They include messages encouraging specific behaviours, which are based on the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health’s COVID response plan, and developed with advice from World Health Organisation Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (WHO GOARN) and Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

For the initial 3-month phase the spots covered the following topics:

  • What is COVID-19?

  • How does it spread?

  • How to protect against COVID-19?

In the second phase of the response, spots cover physical distancing, shielding of vulnerable people, mask use and hand and respiratory hygiene.

To support the radio spots, an animation was produced to visually explain how reducing social contact slows the spread of COVID-19. The animation has been dubbed into French and 3 local languages to date. It has been distributed via social media by the Ministry of Health’s Facebook page and has received over 6 million views as of 14th July. It will also be shown on national television.

The animation produced by DMI to explain physical distancing.

As part of the second phase of the COVID-19 campaign in Burkina Faso, DMI is developing long format interactive radio shows, as they have been found to be effective for facilitating discussion, dispelling myths, and breaking down stigma.

DMI is working with IPA (Innovations for Poverty Action) to evaluate the impact of radio messaging on knowledge, attitudes and practices around COVID-19 and its effect on people’s lives.

What process did you use when designing your COVID-19 response programme?

DMI’s team in Burkina Faso liaised with the Ministry of Health to align our work to the Government response to each stage of the COVID-19 outbreak and agree on which public health behaviours were the most important to prioritise. DMI also carried out formative research on knowledge, attitudes and behaviours around COVID-19 with representatives of the target audience to inform the script development. DMI’s research team then created message briefs with advice from WHO GOARN and Africa CDC. These were turned into scripts by DMI’s in-country creative team, who adapted the content to be relevant to the Burkinabé context. They were then translated into local languages and distributed to radio stations.

What is one thing that has been working really well so far and is there something other programmes could learn from this?

The presence of a local team experienced in field research and radio production, supported by international advisors, has enabled DMI to create compelling spots and to get them on air very quickly. DMI’s existing production capacity and relationships with the Ministry of Health and radio stations across Burkina Faso have been key.

What is one challenge that you have encountered and how are you trying to overcome this?

We were unable to conduct face-to-face field research as we usually would, to get input into behaviours, concepts and scripts from the target audience. As a result we have been developing remote research techniques to do formative research. We used telephone surveys with participants recruited from contact lists provided by partner radio stations in 5 different locations. We asked them about their understanding and impressions of COVID-19, uncovered misconceptions about the disease, and identified barriers and facilitators to adopting COVID-19 prevention measures, such as hand washing and social distancing.

How have you been engaging communities throughout your programme and what feedback have you received?

In addition to the formative research which informed the radio spots, DMI also sent survey participants the radio spots by Whatsapp and asked them for their views to check the radio spots were understandable and relevant to the listeners and to ascertain how easy people would find it to implement the recommended behaviours. Participants suggested topics that should be covered by future radio spots including advice on how to protect older people or people with pre-existing health conditions and how to use masks safely. We are exploring both of these behaviours for our second phase of work.

The animation we developed received over 6 million views on the Ministry of Health Facebook page, and we are now analysing the thousands of comments posted about it. As we analyse these we hope to get a sense of whether people agreed or disagreed with the message in the animation and whether they found any aspects of it confusing. We also want to see if there were any comments about conspiracy theories or fear-mongering. We are not sure that the rural setting will resonate with all viewers. It may be that future animations have to represent a broader range of living circumstances in order to resonate with the widest possible audience.

Recording spots in a radio studio in Burkina Faso. Each of DMI’s spots is recorded in 10 local languages to ensure we reach as many people as possible.


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