UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Making (Radio) Waves in Liberia

Ganta United Methodist Hospital uses radio program to fight HIV and AIDS and improve mother and child health.
Ganta officer for maternal and newborn health gives a radio lecture on antenatal care.
Nehnwaa Child Survival Project

By Julia Kayser*

Over the past five years, the Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Liberia has joined forces with the nonprofit Curamericas to reduce maternal and child mortality. Curamericas partnered with USAID to fund the Nehnwaa Child Survival Project, which has served more than 150,000 Liberians. The project’s partners include the Liberia Ministry of Health, World Learning, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), local leaders, local health-care professionals, and local self-help groups. In September, this five-year grant will end. Its remarkable legacy is a 60% reduction in child mortality.

This program has addressed the holistic needs of the community. Its initiatives include water and sanitation, immunization, maternal and newborn health, family planning, and HIV and AIDS. One of the ways it has worked to reduce rates of HIV is through radio programs. Today, Allen S. D. Torgebeidah Zomonway, Nehnwaa’s project manager, reflects on the HIV/AIDS efforts.

Q: What are some of the traditional views of HIV/AIDS in Liberia? 

A: Some traditional views are: AIDS stands for the “American Idea to Discourage Sex”; having sexual intercourse with a virgin can prevent one from coming down with AIDS; AIDS is transmitted via eating with an infected person; only thin or slim people have HIV—fat people do not get HIV; only sex workers or prostitutes can have AIDS; bathing immediately after having intercourse prevents one from contracting HIV; children can’t have AIDS.

Q: How are people stigmatized if they are infected with HIV/AIDS?  

A: When you are infected, you have no friends, limited possibilities for employment, and a slim chance of a romantic relationship. Most family members want you to die soon, so you cannot infect other family members. Usually, we have a communal way of eating, but when you have AIDS, you are served separately. Locally, when you have AIDS, you are deprived from joining social groups.

Q: What radio messages have you designed to promote knowledge about HIV?

A: We provide information on the transmission routes, such as mother-to-child transmission and the sharing of skin-piercing instruments. For example, most women use needles with charcoal to darken their gums because women with dark gums are considered beautiful, so we encourage each person to use a new instrument in these traditional procedures… We encourage voluntary confidential testing (VCT). For pregnant women, we emphasize the health of the unborn child… Local community leaders help us advocate testing, distribute condoms, and encourage abstinence. We try to overcome stigma by teaching that HIV is a condition, not a death warrant.

Q: What changes have you seen since starting this campaign?

A: Nowadays, people are openly discussing the disease, especially in rural areas. You can see youth and other sexually active people as well as their spouses coming for condoms (otherwise referred to as “raincoats”) to protect them. Most people are now openly coming for voluntary counseling in the community. Pregnant women are requesting that their spouses be tested, and this is easily going on without resistance.

Without continued funding, radio programming and other initiatives will grind to a halt. It only costs $125 per month to broadcast messages that prevent stigma and promote testing.  Can you chip in? You can choose where your donation goes:

*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.