How radio programs and training are contributing to the COVID-19 response in Burkina Faso

Like it did in many countries, the COVID-19 virus spread quickly in Burkina Faso. The first case was reported in early March and by the end of May, nine out of thirteen regions of the country had been infected. With parts of the country already facing insecurity, COVID-19 presents serious additional and growing challenges for people, particularly those that are displaced. The pandemic also threatens to exacerbate existing pressures on the healthcare system.

In Burkina Faso, the infant and child mortality rate is 81.6 per 1,000 live births – double the global average. The maternal mortality rate is 330 per 100,000 live births. The pandemic posed an additional risk to maternal and child health; many pregnant women and new mothers might have been reluctant to visit hospitals and healthcare centers for fear of contracting the virus.

Responding swiftly to COVID-19

Burkina Faso was prompt in its response to COVID-19. National and local governments, together with civil society partners, gradually implemented new collective and individual measures to further contain the spread of the virus. These measures included closure of schools, markets, borders, and interurban public transport; implementing quarantine in cities or localities affected by the virus; and increasing awareness about the virus.

The nationwide curfew that was in place for almost two months likely increased the risk for pregnant mothers, particularly in cases where they might have needed to access emergency healthcare in the middle of the night.

Now that restrictive measures such as lack of public gatherings and mandated curfews have been lifted, and border closures ended, there is a risk of increased infection. Reopening could mean fewer pregnant women and new mothers visiting health centers, as well as a further increase in child and maternal mortality rates as complications go undiagnosed if pregnant women try to wait out the virus at home.

WUSC has been working in Burkina Faso since 2012 to improve maternal and child health, with funding from Global Affairs Canada. Together with our partners,  we have been concerned that years of progress on the promotion of safer maternal healthcare practices could be lost if pregnant women and new mothers are unable to access the care that they need.

In order to sustain the progress made in maternal and child health by the government, healthcare partners and communities, we adapted our work to overcome new challenges brought on by the current context. We did this through two main mechanisms: first, by expanding our radio programming and, second, by adapting our training initiatives for healthcare providers.

Expanding and adapting our community engagement

Since 2016, through our work in Burkina Faso, we have trained over 820 healthcare workers (69% of whom are women) in three regions to improve their knowledge and skills in maternal and child healthcare. But these skills will not go very far if women are not accessing healthcare services in their communities.

In partnership with Farm Radio International, we supported local radio stations to run interactive radio programs to increase access to quality information about maternal and child health, and to support women in making informed decisions about their healthcare needs. Since 2016, 52.4% of listeners of these radio programs have been women.

In response to the pandemic, we shifted our work with Farm Radio International to raise awareness on COVID-19 through their local partner radio stations.

Making COVID-19 a priority on air

Farm Radio International is currently supporting radio partners on developing programming to provide pregnant women, new mothers and their families quality, accurate and relevant information about COVID-19.

This initiative will continue to use the dedicated listening groups that were formed  previously. These groups serve as “critical listeners” who call-in or use the Uliza platform (a suite of services that combine radio, mobile phones and often, interactive voice response systems to enable listeners to communicate and exchange information with their radio station quickly, easily and free of charge) to ask questions, provide feedback and identify information gaps that need to be addressed by future radio programming.

Training community-based health workers on the COVID-19 response

As the healthcare system navigates the pandemic, we must continue to support the healthcare heroes who are working tirelessly to serve their communities at this time.

We supported the Ministry of Health in training health workers who in turn trained community-based health workers on COVID-19 and protective measures against the spread of the virus. These community-based health workers deployed their new knowledge and skills while making home visits to pregnant women, mothers, and their families.

We also supported community health centers by providing equipment in order to prevent the spread of the virus, and reassure pregnant women and new mothers that it is safe to visit these centers. Some of this equipment support hygiene measures such as handwashing stations, as well as laser thermometers to ensure physical distancing in health centers.

Through increased information and awareness, continued training of healthcare workers, and provision of proper safety equipment, we aim to prevent the spread of the virus and help pregnant women and new mothers feel reassured that they are not putting themselves and their unborn or newborn children at risk by visiting their local healthcare center.

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