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Radio Messages Help Communities Fight Trachoma

  • Rakia Adamou gives listeners a trachoma prevention message during a live broadcast at ORTN, Zinder Regional Radio Station in Niger. (Photos: The Carter Center)

  • From left: Souleymene Tahirou Aboubacar, health communications advisor; Amadou Roufai Ousmane, director of community radio station Radio Albichir: and Barmou Moudi, Carter Center sanitation technician, discuss health programming at the station.

A low, boxy building made of rough but neatly mortared concrete blocks stands in the city of Mirriah, located in central Niger. Out back are a three-panel solar power array, a satellite dish, and a 100-foot-tall mast antenna. Inside are two desks with whirring computers, a small room with an electronic audio control panel, and a glassed-in room equipped with a round table, chairs, and two microphones on bases fashioned out of machinery gears.

Radio Albichir — "Good News" in the Hausa language — is a 300-watt community radio station that plays hip-hop and other popular music that listeners request by phone and online. But it does more than that: Throughout the broadcast day, the station's on-air personalities work into their breezy chatter a litany of messages about health, hygiene, and community betterment.

One of those three-minute messages, developed by the Ministry of Health and the Carter Center’s Niger staff, informs people they can avoid trachoma through washing their faces frequently and keeping their environment clean to discourage flies that can spread the infectious eye disease.

"This town is filthy in places, but since the Carter Center's trachoma message has been airing, it's getting cleaned up," says station director and jocular host Amadou Roufai Ousmane. "People are learning."

The large, historic city of Zinder is just a few miles away. There, a more powerful state-owned station called ORTN (Office of Radio and Television, Niger) performs a similar role for a wider regional audience.

ORTN's daytime hosts are Zara Oumarou and Rakia Adamou. Backed by a team of technicians in the wellappointed, modern studio, the two women take turns sitting at a checkerboard table and speaking into a microphone suspended at the end of a long boom. They and ORTN's other hosts pepper their shows with music, jokes, advice, official announcements, and oftrepeated messages about avoiding trachoma and other threats to health.

At both stations, everyone seems to enjoy their work and take their influence seriously.

"I am using my voice to guide people to more sanitary behavior," Radio Albichir’s charismatic Ousmane says. "I am not political, but this makes me feel like a leader of the community."

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