"Hello, dear listeners, and welcome to the community doctor show," Grace Akpegi's voice reverberates from Choice FM during the intro to her radio show.
Code-mixing formal English with pidgin English, she continued. "Today, we will discuss how to prevent malaria in our community. As we de do am normally, una go call in make we discuss matter wey de affect our health and how we go take remove malaria from our house."
This is just the first of many vernacular interjections that Akpegi will drop during her thirty-minute "The Community Doctor" show.
Every Wednesday afternoon at around 3.57 pm, the 50-year-old deejay gets behind the microphone at Choice FM, puts on her headphones and waits for a cue from the director of programming.
At precisely 4 pm, the show starts.
For the next 30 minutes, Akpegi discusses positive behaviours that protect people from malaria and answers questions from callers at the private radio station in the Igede Oju Local Government area, Benue, in Nigeria,
"Listeners, do you know that environmental hygiene is very important in preventing malaria....? E de important to visit any small hospital wey near you once you dey feel malaria symptoms for body, no think say malaria go comot for your body on its own if you no treat am".
Akpegi was a nurse for over 18 years and was a primary healthcare director in Benue State before retiring. Then, a health report would later jolt her out of retirement.
"I remember reading a report about an epidemiological study of malaria in the Gboko metropolis of Benue State. Of the 415 sample population, 231, representing 55.7%, were positive for malaria infection," she said.
Ichakobe community is one of many malaria-prone areas that lack access to information on the prevention and treatment of the disease. Situated in Benue State, the community is surrounded mainly by water and forests, making the region a malaria hotspot.
Malaria is endemic in Nigeria and remains a life-threatening condition, and the country accounts for about a quarter of the global burden of the disease.
In January 2023, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, while revealing the Ministry of Health scorecard report, announced that "nine to ten people die every hour due to malaria or malaria-related causes in Nigeria".
Lack of information and awareness about preventive measures in rural areas contributes to these figures. And while many international NGOs provide immunisation, research, medical supplies and mosquito nets, remote areas are often inaccessible.
"I was disturbed when I realised that most people worst hit by malaria in these communities were the elderly and young children," Akpegi said. "I thought about a perfect solution to curb this menace. After much consideration, I decided to launch a radio show to connect with the locals without internet access."
She approached the management of Choice FM with her idea and asked for air time on the radio channel. The management agreed, and in March 2020, the Community Doctor Show aired its first episode.
Then came the challenge of growing her audience base. Choice Fm already had several programs on their daily schedule, ranging from entertainment, sports, lifestyle and politics.
"I wasn't sure whether residents of Ichakobe would turn on their radio sets every Wednesday to hear The Community Doctor program," she said
But after a few weeks on air, many in the community started tuning in to the show. They said they found the radio program a perfect resource for health tips.
"We didn't know much about malaria and its symptoms, and we often used self-medication as the last resort when our children fell ill. We used traditional herbs to treat malaria," said Beauty Ogwa, a local trader in the Ichakobe community.
"But listening to the radio program has helped educate us about proper medications and preventive measures to curb the spread."
Vincent Owoicholeya, a radio mechanic, learned about the programme in a rather unusual way.
"I was at my shop one day when a boy came with his radio set. He wanted to repair it urgently. I had to quiz him, to know the reason for the urgency. He later admitted that he didn't want to miss The Community Doctor show," he said.
Akpegi could only attend to about ten patients daily as a health worker, but today, she reaches as many as 500,000 people with every radio show.
"The project has helped to position the station as an influential channel for behaviour change through the messages on malaria and other health topics in the community," said Ogbu Ego, general manager of Choice FM.
"I am happy to provide this platform for the project to succeed."
Akpegi's approach to community service and impact has been widely celebrated. When the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) launched a project to reduce malaria mortality and morbidity in Nigeria, Akpegi was among 69 radio producers commissioned to develop health programs.
She was tasked to focus on priority behaviours and messages and to identify experts to interview on her show who can relay accurate information to the public.
Akpegi believes setting up proper channels of sensitisation through community radios would go a long way in saving lives.
"If an NGO is distributing free mosquito nets or providing free tests for community residents, a proper and feasible mode of communication should relay the message and ensure this information reaches the rural and urban areas of the community. That way, everyone benefits from the scheme," she said.
"This project has helped me to improve how I promote health messages through program analysis, development and monitoring," she said.
bird story agency