An FM radio station broadcasting from the western Tanzanian town of Ngara is bringing vital HIV prevention information to thousands of Burundian and Rwandan refugees living in the region.
A weekly 30-minute HIV-focused programme entitled, You and Me, Together We Can, is broadcast on Radio Kwizera to an estimated 90,000 refugees living in camps in northwestern Tanzania. Its coverage goes beyond the camps, reaching more than six million people in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.
"During our health broadcasts, there is real interaction with the people," said Father Damas Missanga, head of Radio Kwizera, which was founded in 1995 by the NGO Jesuit Refugee Service. "They call us and send SMS questions; we answer them on air."
"Girls call in to tell us what is happening [such as] men who do not want to wear condoms," said Jean-Paul Basabose, the show's host.
According to the station's editor-in-chief, Emmanuel Buhohela, the programme covers a raft of HIV prevention issues, reflecting the "social realities" of the refugee communities.
"We talk a lot about sex with [underage] girls," he said. "We tell pregnant women to go to a hospital to give birth because it is still very much the mentality that it must be done at home."
The UN Refugee Agency has reported incidents of sexual exploitation of children in Tanzanian refugee camps.
According to a 2008 study conducted among Congolese refugees in Tanzania, radio broadcast messages helped promote awareness of HIV risk within the refugee community. The authors recommended using radio broadcasts to reach out to wider populations, and to strengthen the focus on safer sex education for both HIV-negative and HIV-positive people.
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Basabose noted that the station had built up a trusting relationship with the community, enabling refugees to write, call or SMS the station without fear of recrimination.
Eric, a refugee in Ngara, said he listened to Radio Kwizera all day and felt "the information is reliable".
The radio station also hosts weekly broadcasts on repatriation and refugee rights. "We convey messages of reconciliation, peace with emphasis on the dangers of ethnic division and the effects of war… We explain how and why it is necessary to forgive," said the station's editor-in-chief Buhohela.
Radio Kwizera intends to expand its transmission coverage to areas bordering Lake Victoria, where fishing communities are among those most affected by HIV/AIDS.