Geetesh Solanki, Reno Morar, Louis Reynolds, Neil Myburgh, Rustum Omar
RX Radio, a radio station “by and for children” based at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town” has won a global award contested by 140 entities from around the world.
In an opinion piece titled “100 days of lockdown: Success stories need to bring some balance to Covid-19 narrative” published in News 24, Professor Marc Mendelson argues that: “it is time that a modicum of balance is brought to the sense of helplessness and nihilism that is becoming entrenched in society. There are success stories out there that need to be heard.”
We believe that one such story is the announcement that a South African entry, “Children’s Voices on COVID-19” produced by RX Radio, was one of two winners of the Reboot Health and Wellness Innovation Challenge organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, WFP, UNAIDS, and the UN.
About the Challenge
The Challenge was launched in March 2020 to inspire young people from around the world to develop solutions to one of the most urgent health challenges for the next decade: Keeping young people safe. Entrants submitted 140 ideas from around the world, covering important issues such as mental health, education, information empowerment, sexual health, and drug abuse. The opinions of a panel of experts as well as feedback from the public determined the outcome.
The South African entry and winner: “Children’s Voices on COVID-19”
The South African winning entry, “Children’s Voices on COVID-19” was produced by RX Radio, an award-winning radio station (www.rxradio.co.za ) “by and for children” based at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. It is one of the first radio stations in the world to have child reporters broadcasting from within a hospital. Three RX Radio Young Reporters, Talitha Counter, Luzuko Sonkapu, and Alaweyah Mogali, along with RX Radio Producer Chris Booth presented the project Children’s Voices on COVID-19 for the Reboot Health and Wellness Innovation Challenge.
Dr Gabriel Urgoiti (Station Manager) and Noluyolo Ngomani (Senior Radio Producer) said that the “Children’s Voices on COVID-19” was a natural extension of the radio station’s work and was developed in recognition of the fact that, while children are not the face of this pandemic, they risk being among its biggest victims (https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/dont-let-children-be-hidden-victims-covid-19-pandemic).
The crisis is having a profound effect on the health and wellbeing of children. Negative socio-economic impact and, in some cases, mitigation measures that inadvertently prove harmful are affecting children of all ages.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a universal crisis with its harmful effects differentially and unequally distributed. They will be most damaging for children in the poorest communities, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations such as children with long-term health conditions or disabilities. For some children, the impact will be lifelong. This is terrain familiar to RX Radio and its articulate young reporters.
“Children’s Voices on COVID-19” was developed to address the broader social and mental health and well-being of children. By recording children’s voices and allowing other children to hear their stories and experiences, the programme strives to assure children and families that they are not alone. It allows children to see how other children experience similar problems and how they deal with them.
This also provides guidance and support to children and families on how best to change behaviour in order to protect themselves and others as they prepare for returning to school. At the same time, the programme is entertaining for children and lifts their spirits. It provides an opportunity for children to engage with parents/caregivers, health workers and decision-makers to hear their experience of the pandemic.
The programme was developed with the belief that children should have a platform to talk about their own experiences of the pandemic. Having a microphone in your hands and using it to question someone in a position of power, for example an adult or a health official, shifts the balance of power to the child. The right to participate is enshrined as one of the four key principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – ratified by SA in 1995, as well as in our constitution. This is what RX Radio has achieved.
What was said at the awards ceremony
In announcing the award, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, said; “Your idea is a wonderful example of the impact it can have when children and young people are truly empowered and given voice to share stories and perspectives about their health and to engage their peers in this regard. It is remarkable how you did this even in the challenging situation of the COVID-19 epidemic.” In questioning Talitha Counter (who represented RX Radio in accepting the award), Dr Tedros indicated that he was impressed at what had been done in South Africa and wanted to know how they (WHO and others) could learn from the South African experience so that it could be “done everywhere”. He further went on to say: “… thank you so much again, congratulations, this is amazing, you are so special, this is really a wonderful moment for us and a learning moment too… and what I see from this platform and conversation is that learning is both ways so today was a moment to learn from our young ones like you”.
In response to a question from Dr Tedros about what has been learnt from children speaking on the programme, Talitha responded by saying; “children wouldn’t raise their concerns to parents but because of this platform they had the freedom to voice out (about) what they are scared of during this pandemic and as I said schools are opening but they are scared to tell their parents that they actually do not want to go to school because they are scared they might get this virus… so this platform was really an easy way of children just expressing how they feel and it also helps parents to listen to this platform and hear what their children’s views are on COVID-19 and also to help them go through this problem together”.
The success of RX Radio and its entry “Children’s Voices on COVID-19” in winning an Innovation Challenge organised by a collaboration of global bodies is remarkable. All South Africans should celebrate and be proud of this achievement. It provides a timely reminder that we have youth in our country who are incredibly creative and who are capable of doing truly amazing things, given the right opportunities and support. It is up to us to nurture and encourage this creative and youthful talent.
Geetesh Solanki, Specialist Scientist at Health Systems Research Unit, SAMRC. Honorary Research Associate, Health Economics Unit, University of Cape Town.
Reno Morar: Chief Operating Officer, University of Cape Town
Louis Reynolds: People’s Health Movement, member of the Advocacy Committee, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Cape Town
Neil Myburgh: Acting Dean, Dental Faculty, University of Western Cape
Rustum Omar: Executive Director, Willis Towers Watson and Trustee of the Willis Towers Watson South African Development Trust