How Scanning the Airwaves Closes Health Service Gaps for People Living with HIV

4 min read

An interview with Dr. Eddie Mukooyo, Chair of the Uganda AIDS Commission Board in the Office of the President

Many low-income Ugandans lack access to basic health information and services, especially if they live in rural and hard-to-reach areas or poorer city suburbs. This inequality and marginalization often means that people may be unaware of their health-related rights or feel their needs aren’t met because their voices aren’t heard. In many cases, medical and educational outreach is affected by poor literacy rates or lack of distribution channels for behavioural change campaigns. Gaps like these have caused certain illnesses, like the human autoimmune virus (HIV), to continue to affect communities across the country.

Based on a 2016 population impact assessment, the prevalence of HIV among Ugandan adults is 6%, and 6.3% for young people between the ages of 25 and 29. More women than men live with HIV (e.g. 8.5% of women aged 25-29 vs. 3.5% of men) and the majority of young people are unaware of their status because they don’t have access to testing and care facilities.

HIV is still a taboo subject that many avoid speaking about openly.

Bridging the divide, in a digital manner, is an important step and one where Pulse Lab Kampala has a role to play. When big data sets are analyzed they reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially when it comes to human behaviour and interactions.

In Uganda, the majority of people use radio to get information or share their thoughts on various issues and concerns. With more than 250 community radio stations in the country that host popular phone-in shows, listeners can call in to talk about the matters that affect them most—including topics they might not speak about publicly like HIV, cholera, adolescent pregnancy, or violence against women.

When it comes to the health service delivery sector, most information systems in Uganda are based on reports from medical or academic staff. Analysing radio messages can help close the gap by providing officials, policy makers, and medical experts with real-time information on the challenges people living with HIV face when they try to access specific services, especially if they live in remote areas.

Pulse Lab Kampala and partners developed the Radio Content Analysis Tool to analyse large quantities of information from radio shows. This allows for individual and collective perceptions on certain issues to be filtered so critical gaps and qualitative insights can be identified. 

Dr. Eddie Mukooyo, Chair of the Uganda AIDS Commission Board in the Office of the President, has worked on HIV/AIDS and medical service delivery issues for over 35 years. Part of his career was spent developing an integrated Health Management Information System for monitoring the health sector in Uganda. He thinks there is incredible potential in the Pulse Lab Kampala software, especially if it is scaled up across sectors and used at national, regional, and local levels.

“The radio content analysis tool can rank critical issues affecting the health sector according to the perspectives of members of the population. [We can get] feedback on national campaigns and initiatives like the mosquito net distribution, ambulance services, or contraceptive methods. It’s a way to assess client satisfaction on various health services and projects.”

Analysing what people say on the radio about contraception or HIV affects the way in which behaviour change communication activities are scaled up or how audiences are reached with appropriate interventions. Integrating community radio and health sector work has resulted in the closure of information gaps and is bringing people together at various levels.

On some radio shows, health experts and local leaders have been invited to discuss health issues or complaints with community members. Using the radio in this way has allowed the Ministry of Health and local counterparts to share HIV prevention and care messages. Campaigns outline the importance of testing (with a special focus on men), initiating anti-retroviral treatment (ART), adherence of ART for pregnant women, plus infant and young child feeding, safe male circumcision, sexual reproductive health, and safer sexual practices.

Once shows air, caller feedback is streamed and analysed using the tool developed by Pulse Lab Kampala. In the case of HIV, health and medical officials can use the insights to rank critical issues in care and service delivery. It is another method the Government of Uganda can scale-up and use to make progress towards global and national health targets, or find new ways to lower the viral load suppression for people living with HIV. 

“Your partner’s HIV status is not yours. Every individual needs to get tested to determine their status. This [radio tool] is one way to help boost the national ‘treat-and-test’ policy and realize the 90–90–90 HIV targets.” – Dr. Mukooyo

Looking ahead, the Ministry of Health plans on using more community-generated information to define strategies and interventions that align with the expectations of the people they serve.

The radio content analysis application is an innovative way for officials, medical staff, and local leaders to get feedback on the perceptions people living with HIV have about current services, along with general insight into how well prevention campaigns are received or health care initiatives can be improved.

More resources: 

  • Analysing radio content – Microsite
  • Using machine learning to analyse radio content in Uganda – Pilots Microsite
  • Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda – Opportunities for Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Action – Report
  • Bringing in people´s voices to respond to a refugee crisis – Microsite

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