Broadcaster Helps Afghans Stay in the Pink

New radio station tackling poor understanding of disease and medicine already attracting large audiences.

Broadcaster Helps Afghans Stay in the Pink

New radio station tackling poor understanding of disease and medicine already attracting large audiences.

Dr Behroz Kalam realised just how low the level of medical awareness is in Afghanistan the day a man came into his clinic complaining of a kidney problem.

“He tried to show me where it hurt, and he put his hand on his stomach,” said Kalam. “That’s when we decided to open this radio station.”

Dr Kalam is the editor of Radio Tapesh, or Heartbeat, a new station that began airing its programmes at the end of January.

Its mission is to increase understanding among the population of basic medical facts, dispense advice on treatment of disease, and generally improve the health of Afghan citizens.

According to its founders, it is the first station of its type in Afghanistan, and it is already attracting a large audience with savvy marketing techniques.

“People can call us anytime day or night and get advice from medical specialists,” said Dr Kalam. “Most can get well by preventative treatment or a few pills.”

Each day, the radio station selects one caller who is seriously ill but has no money to pay for medical care.

“We give them the address of our clinic and we treat them for free,” he said.

Tapesh is the project of a health centre known as the Afghan Clinic, operating out of the latter’s top floor. Station staff are all medical professionals, and the clinic supports the radio project financially.

Dr Aziz, head of the Afghan Clinic and a station representative, told guests at the Tapesh launch that it would also keep people up to date with recent developments in the field of medicine.

“We can inform people about certain diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, and instruct them in how to protect themselves,” he said.

Afghan health officials welcomed the arrival of the station, saying that it would help to broaden understanding of health issues.

“It is a good opportunity for those who do not know how to take care of themselves,” said Mohammad Amin Fatimi, the minister of public health. “Education is better than distributing pills, because, if people do not get real information on how to treat themselves, they can make some big mistakes.”

Fatimi said the great majority of illnesses can be prevented through good medical advice.

“People here do not know much about medicine, so they try to cure everything with a pill,” he said. “I hope Tapesh will help with this.”

One major area in which the radio can make a difference, said Fatimi, was maternal mortality. According to UN statistics, Afghanistan is among the most dangerous places on earth to become pregnant.

“We have health clinics in many districts, but it is against local tradition for women to go to these clinics,” he said. “Women have to give birth at home, which leads to increased maternal mortality. The radio can tell people that there are female doctors in the clinic, and that it is not a bad thing to take a woman to the clinic.”

Dr Kalam runs the live phone-in show. He told IWPR that the number of callers was increasing day by day.

‘We get dozens of calls,” he said. “A 22-year-old girl called in who said she had acne on her face. She took her friends’ advice and was using laundry detergent to try and get rid of it it. She had no idea how badly damaged her skin was, but we called her in to the clinic and treated her.”

The radio, he said, was fulfilling an important educational need, “We can explain to people where the major organs are, such as liver, kidney, stomach, heart, etcetera. Then when they have a pain, they can explain it more easily.”

The radio broadcasts 24-hours a day, and covers Kabul and the surrounding area.

This, say some, is one of its shortcomings.

“People in remote areas need these types of programmes more than we in Kabul do,” said listener Farid Ahmad, a Kabul resident and a Tapesh fan. “This radio should try ad broadcast in places where you have to walk a night and a day just to get to a health clinic.”

Station representative say they have plans to expand their coverage.

But for now it is a welcome addition to the airwaves around the capital.

“I had a pain in my abdomen, and no money to go to a doctor,” said Wahidullah, a Tapesh listener, who recently called the station about his problem.

“They told me to stay warm and to avoid solid food for a while. Then they told me to go to a clinic if I did not get better. I didn’t have to, though – I got better by following their advice.”

Afghan film actor Mamnoon Maqsoudi told IWPR that he too listens to Tapesh.

“It is very interesting for me when a sick person calls in and a specialist answers him, very calmly, as if he were their family doctor,” said Mamnoon. “Healthy people also call the radio, to get advice on how to take care of themselves. It is a radio for everybody.”

The journalists who worked on this story asked that their names be withheld for security reasons.
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