The Reach Project is an initiative by the Munk School of Global Affairs and the MasterCard Center focused on researching the delivery of social services in the hardest to reach populations in the global south.

 Soap operas for health: Rwandan radio station teaches locals about health through story

Soap operas for health: Rwandan radio station teaches locals about health through story

Rwandan radio soap opera Urunana raises awareness of health issues, including HIV/AIDS. According to data collected between 2002 and 2005, 74% of Rwandans followed the serial drama every week.

By Julia Robson

As I reflect on my time in Rwanda, I feel lucky to have learned and experienced so much. In particular, it is clear that Rwandans are committed to a culture of continuous healthcare excellence, including through Imihigo contracts between government leaders at all levels. Not once did we hear that the progress Rwanda has made is ‘good enough.’ Instead, it seems that there is a common understanding that there is always more work to be done, to both improve and maintain the systems that are currently in place.

Urunana, the radio soap opera that engages Rwandans in stories with health-related messages, is a particularly striking example of this culture. The radio program’s production cycle involves turning policy gaps, the population’s needs, and current issues into entertaining and educational short stories. It has been produced since 1998 and is now hugely popular and broadcast across the country. But what is the secret behind Urunana’s success? For one, Urunana excels at coordinating with village-level community health workers, which enables the program to actively engage with the issues that matter most. Using imaginary but popular community role models in a fictional village, the radio program presents realistic scenarios that are taken to heart by many who hear them. Urunana characters have become so well-loved that some people name their children after them!

Urunana has grown and changed with the needs of the population and has helped to empower people to become more informed about their health and their family’s health. For example, episodes are created and timed to inform the population about the purpose of and requirements for new vaccines, such as HPV, before vaccination campaigns start. This allows for broad information sharing, and for questions to be answered well in advance of a given vaccination campaign.

Although financial sustainability is a challenge, the Urunana production team is passionate about their work. They know they are making a difference in Rwandans’ lives. As Rwanda now faces an increased population-level prevalence of non-communicable diseases, it is clear that Urunana will continue to play an important role in entertaining, educating, and empowering the community.

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[Banner image caption: Poster at the Kigali Urunana office, showing the production cycle for Urunana episodes. From left to right: Research Assistant Jean-Népo Mugenzi, Reach Project student James Bao, Reach Project student Julia Robson.]

 


 

Community Health Workers: the frontlines of Rwandan health care

Community Health Workers: the frontlines of Rwandan health care