Through her weekly 30-minute radio show, popular DJ and retired nurse Grace Akpegi is sensitising her audience and promoting behaviour that protects people from malaria
Lagos, Nigeria | BIRD AGENCY | “Hello, dear listeners, and welcome to the community doctor show,” Grace Akpegi’s voice reverberates out from Choice FM during the intro to her radio show.
“Today we will be talking about how to prevent malaria in our community. As we de do am normally, una go call in make we discuss matter when de affect our health and how we go take remove malaria from our house,” she adds in pidgin.
This is just the first of many vernacular interjections that Akpegi will scatter across into her thirty-minute show, The Community Doctor.
Every Wednesday afternoon at around 3.57 pm, the 50-year-old deejay gets behind the microphone at Choice FM, puts on her headphones and waits for a cue from the director of programming.
At precisely 4 pm, the show starts.
For the next 30 minutes, Akpegi discusses positive behaviours that protect people from malaria and answers questions from callers at the private radio station in the Igede Oju Local Government area, Benue, in Nigeria,
“Listeners, do you know that environmental hygiene is very important in the prevention of malaria…. E de important to visit any small hospital when near you once you de feel malaria symptom for body, nor think say malaria go comot for your body on its own if you nor treat am”.
Akpegi worked as a nurse for over 18 years and served as a Primary Health Care Director in Benue State before retiring. Then, a health report would jolt her out of retirement.
“I remember reading a report about an epidemiological study of malaria carried out in the Gboko metropolis of Benue State. Out of the 415 sample population, 231, representing 55.7%, were positive for malaria infection,” she said.
Ichakobe community is one of many malaria-prone areas that lack access to information on the prevention and treatment of the disease. Situated in Benue State, the community is surrounded mainly by water and forest, making the region a malaria hotspot.
Malaria is endemic in Nigeria and is all too often a life-threatening condition. The country accounts for about a quarter of the global burden of the disease.
In January 2023, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, while revealing the scorecard report of the Ministry of Health, announced that “nine to ten people die every hour due to malaria or malaria-related causes in Nigeria”.
Lack of information and awareness about preventive measures in rural areas contributes to these figures. And while many international NGOs provide immunisation, research, medical supplies and mosquito nets, remote areas are often inaccessible.
“I was disturbed when I realised that most people worst hit by malaria in these communities were the elderly and young children. I thought about a perfect solution to curb this menace. After much consideration, I decided to launch a radio show to connect with the locals without internet access, ” she explained.
She approached the management of Choice FM with her idea and asked for air time on the radio channel. The management said yes, and in March 2020, the Community Doctor Show officially aired its first episode.
When she started, Akpegi faced difficulties in growing her audience base.
Choice Fm already had several programs on their daily schedule, ranging from entertainment, sports, lifestyle and politics.
“I wasn’t sure whether residents of Ichakobe would turn on their radio sets every Wednesday to hear The Community Doctor program.”
But after a few weeks on air, many in the community started tuning in to the show. They found in the radio program a perfect resource for health tips.
Akpegi could only attend to about ten patients daily as a health worker, but today, she reaches as many as 500,000 people with every radio show.
“The project has helped to position the station as an influential channel for behaviour change through the messages on malaria and other health topics in the community,” said Ogbu Ego, general manager of Choice FM.
“I am happy to provide this platform for the project to succeed,” he added.
Beauty Ogwa, a local trader in the Ichakobe community, said the show has empowered her and influenced her behaviour.
“We didn’t know much about malaria and its symptoms. We often used self-medication as the last resort when our children fell ill. We used traditional herbs to treat malaria. But listening to the radio program has helped educate us about proper medications and preventive measures to curb the spread,” Ogwa said.
“I was at my shop one day when a boy came with his radio set. He wanted to repair it urgently. I had to quiz him, to know the reason for the urgency. He later admitted that he didn’t want to miss The Community Doctor show,” Vincent Owoicholeya, a radio mechanic, added.
Akpegi’s approach to community service and impact has been widely celebrated in the community. When the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) launched a project to reduce malaria mortality and morbidity in Nigeria, Grace Akpegi was among 69 radio producers commissioned to develop health programs.
She was tasked to focus on priority behaviours and messages and to identify experts to interview on her show who can relay accurate information to the public.
Akpegi believes setting up proper channels of sensitisation through community radios would go a long way in saving lives.
“If an NGO is distributing free mosquito nets or providing free tests for community residents, a proper and feasible mode of communication should relay the message and ensure this information reaches the rural and urban areas of the community. That way, everyone benefits from the scheme,” she said.
“This project has helped me to improve how I promote health messages through program analysis, development and monitoring,” she concluded.
SOURCE: Victor Eyike, bird story agency