|Volume 6 | Issue 05 | May 2012 ||
The Healthy Effect of New Media
NAIMUL KARIM highlights the positive role of newmedia in raising awareness of health issues..
The last decade or so has witnessed a growing connection between the health sector and the different forms of media. The rising popularity of the social media and the increasing number of community radio stations in Bangladesh have encouraged doctors and NGOs to use the media to spread awareness and health-related advice.
In the present day, it is almost a pre-requisite to gather information from medical websites, online doctors and health-related broadcasts before the traditional appointment at the doctor's office. This partnership between the medical world and the new media, as it has been termed, has managed to benefit people hailing from different classes of society.
While the concept of New Media might still be in its budding stages in Bangladesh, as compared to the developed economies, an improving Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector, however, has moderately changed the traditional method of communication. The youth, especially, have begun to use the social media for various public purposes.
A prime example of the growing bond between the new media and the medical field is the creation of 'E-Doctor', an internet-based radio channel that provides information regarding various medical issues. The channel which began two years ago has fast grown into an important medium for receiving medical help, especially for the urban youth.
“Apart from providing information about various medical diseases, we have a special focus on the problems related to the youth. One of our programmes, Tokhon Ami, focuses on problems such as depression, peer pressure, break-ups and various other phases that youngsters go through,” explains Atique Mehdi, creator of E-Doctor. Mehdi who is a medical student himself, believes that social media will play a very important role in the future of the medical sector.
The 24-hour radio channel, run by a group of students, highlights Bangladeshi medical achievements and also broadcasts health-related seminars through the internet. “People want the best medical treatment and we try to keep them up-to-date through these programmes,” says Mehdi.
The rise of social media has also led to the creation of forums and online communities, addressing particular problems. The Bangladeshi Systems Change Advocacy Network (B-SCAN), an online group created to promote positive perceptions and attitudes associated with the 'differently-abled' and updating them with the latest medical cures is one such example.
Today, the group has become a forum for people suffering from disabilities to share their problems and lets people know about the atrocities that the less-fortunate in Bangladesh continue to face. Some of the missions of the organisation include: access to education, provision of employment opportunities, access to public buildings and public transport and instilling into society a fresh value for people with disabilities.
Sabrina Sultana, the creator of the group who was diagnosed with 'Muscular Dystrophy' at the age of 10, believes that the group -- although a virtual one -- has given a voice to the voiceless. “The campaigns we organise for people with disabilities throughout the country will someday make people aware and concerned and thus, will help them to earn their rights,” says Sabrina.
While city life has been benefitting from the internet, an alternative media has proved to be a success in villages and at the grassroots level. After repeated efforts by the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), the government, in 2008, approved a number of community radio stations in different parts of the country. Community radio is one such medium that has reaped various success stories throughout the sub-continent.
The Sangam Radio in India, for instance, is a classic example. A segment of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), Sangam Radio was one of India's first grassroot community radio stations to go on air. The radio station's programmes on health, agriculture, etc., has played a significant role in the development of a number of villages in South India.
What is perhaps more interesting is the mechanism by which these radio stations run. A DDS report states that each member of Sangam contributes a certain amount of money every month to the station. This makes the station financially strong and independent of any advertisements. Sangam is mainly run by lower-caste women, deals with various health issues and educate their respective villages regarding crucial problems.
In the same vein, the establishment of Krishi Radio in Amtali, Barguna district, in 2011, plans to enhance rural communication services. With a wide range of programmes starting from agriculture and fishery to health and social awareness, the radio station shares knowledge amongst fisher, farmers, etc. A non-profit venture, run by local volunteers, Krishi Radio is easily reachable thanks to the availability of mobile phones in the rural areas.
Similar initiatives were taken by NGOs such as BRAC and the Young Power in Social Action (YPSA). BRAC recently initiated 'Radio Pollikontho' in Moulvibazar. Another station, entitled 'Radio Mohananda” in Chapai Nawabganj, with a radius of 17 kms, was started in October last year.
More recently, in a bid to digitise certain sections of villages, several NGOs provided residents with wireless internet, laptops and other devices programmed specifically to educate them regarding AIDS and other crucial health problems. The devices were customised and could be used by people who could neither read nor write.
Apart from the developments made in the new media sector, with regard to health, there has also been a growing interest amongst journalists to cover health-related topics. Climate change, food scarcity and frequent cyclone threats have compelled a large section of journalists to write about the miserable living conditions in various areas. In fact, a study amongst journalists in the city has shown that 27% of them write about health issues every other day. A large number of them have also been encouraged by various NGOs.
The internet and the alternate forms of media have given people new hope. However, this is just the beginning. Community radio stations need to be followed with community television, where people from the rural areas can get access to educative programmes and remain informed. While the concept has been put in place in various areas, it needs to spread wider. As for the internet and social media, it has already shown its caliber. If youngsters like Mehdi and Sabrina can inspire thousands of people to lead better lives, one can only imagine the difference it can make if many more people follow their path.
Naimul Karim is Feature Writer, The Star magazine.
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