Using Radio to Bridge the PMTCT Information Gap in Zimbabwe

By Carol Zinyemba | January 3, 2013

Chief Chiveso and Alleta Makotore arriving at Radio Zimbabwe studio to record the HIV/AIDS program "Positive Talk."

EGPAF, 2012

According to data from the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS), 90 percent of pregnant women currently receive antenatal care (ANC). While this is a commendable statistic, it should be noted that this figure is down from 94 percent in 2005-2006 – and only 19 percent of these women schedule time for ANC during the first three months of pregnancy.

This presents a huge missed opportunity for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and safe motherhood, as implementation of the revised 2010 WHO guidelines for PMTCT require that interventions begin at 14 weeks or earlier. Therefore, it is important that EGPAF/Zimbabwe supports the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MoHCW) in its goal to eliminate new infections by 2015, to engage with communities, and remove this barrier to service access.

In an effort to complement other routine program initiatives that address this and other barriers to access, EGPAF/Zimbabwe supported the MoHCW’s to host a 13-week radio show under the banner of the longstanding HIV/AIDS program “Positive Talk” from June-August 2012. Radio and other mass media channels provide a convenient, widespread and non-threatening environment in which critical health information can be provided to communities – and where feedback phone-ins and instant phone messaging can spark productive, meaningful discussions in which many people can participate.

The 13-week show focused on various aspects of PMTCT and elimination, with special emphasis on promoting early ANC booking.  Anecdotal reports indicate that one of the main reasons for booking late is culturally rooted in the belief that if a woman shows and talks about her pregnancy early, she can be bewitched and lose her pregnancy, or be cursed; according to this belief, the pregnancy should be left to “show on its own.” Traditional leaders are therefore an important gatekeeper in this respect, and we knew we needed their buy-in and involvement to influence behavior changes for early ANC booking.

EGPAF/Zimbabwe worked with Chief Chiveso, a traditional chief from the Bindura/Shamva District who is a strong advocate in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Chief Chiveso equated the new treatment guidelines, and the behaviors now required for elimination, to an educational syllabus (curriculum) that changes every few years; everyone is required to comply to the syllabus, or else they will fail the final examination. He believes that all people should comply with the new changes in behavior, or else we will fail in the fight against HIV and AIDS, especially with respect to PMTCT. In fact, Chief Chiveso’s favorite saying “The syllabus has changed!” has become a popular phrase and a clarion call to change behaviors for HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and treatment.

I am happy to report that Chief Chiveso’s wisdom and great sense of humor had more than 400 listeners from all corners of Zimbabwe sending in text messages less than one hour after the airing of the live show!

During the shows, Chief Chiveso also highlighted the need for changes in infant and young child feeding, which in Zimbabwe are also deeply rooted in culture. Our culture requires that every newborn child be given a porridge made with special herbs from the family as a way of welcoming the child to the ancestors and cleansing them from any bewitchment; the revised treatment guidelines strictly require that infants be exclusively breastfed from birth to six months.

Working on the radio programs with Chief Chiveso and other community guests, such as EGPAF Ambassador Miriam Chakaipa, has enriched our efforts to reach out to communities, as evidenced by the nearly 900 text messages we received after each show from all over Zimbabwe, and from Zimbabweans living in the diaspora who were able to tune in to Radio Zimbabwe.

Carol Zinyemba is Office Manager for the Foundation, based in Zimbabwe.