Thinking out of the box: improving health literacy through a radio programme

18 December 2019
By Dr Parveen Ali

Dr Parveen Ali sat at the microphone at the Link FM radio station

Health care professionals are responsible for providing appropriate health care services to patients to help them overcome an illness in a clinical setting. They also promote health by engaging in health education and health promotion activities. They can play an important role in improving health literacy among the general population to help them adapt a healthier lifestyle to reduce the likelihood of future health problems. One way this can be addressed, as I will describe below, is through using local radio stations.

It is both important and challenging to promote health literacy among the general population, and migrant populations in particular. With an increase in the internal and external migration and mobility of people to and from different parts of the world, the likelihood of experiencing language barriers while providing and receiving care has increased.

Language barriers can contribute to health inequalities that people from minority ethnic groups experience. These groups may already be subjected to health inequalities due to gender, socioeconomic status, education, sexual orientation or disability. Language barriers may worsen the situation for these already marginalised groups by adversely affecting their ability to communicate effectively.

This manifests itself through public health issues such as impaired health seeking behaviour, low uptake of physical and mental health services, late presentation of serious illnesses, low uptake of health screening (eg cervical screening or health checks) and poor management of long-term conditions such as diabetes. Language barriers also impact individuals’ abilities to explain their symptoms and experiences to health care providers. This barrier can prevent them from asking appropriate questions about their health condition when seeking health care services. However the impact of this can be reduced if the information is provided by healthcare professionals to these populations in their own language and in a simple, jargon free and non-threatening way.

Current advances in health, technology and communication mean that there are a wide variety of mechanisms through which health promotion and health education strategies can be developed and delivered. Radio and television programmes can be used effectively to provide health information.

Using my language skills and the medium of radio I have been working to disseminate health information in an easy to understand format for the South Asian population who can communicate in Urdu. I conduct a weekly radio programme called ‘Health Show’ on Link FM 96.7 radio station. This show offers a local service to inform, educate and entertain listeners and provides a voice to local communities.

Health Show was initiated, recognising the needs in Sheffield’s South Asian population to promote awareness of various health conditions and public health issues. The programme also aims to increase awareness about public health issues and dispel myths by ensuring that information is provided by Registered Nurses and specialist healthcare professionals. Every week one health condition is explained in Urdu. Specialist health care professionals (cardiologists, stroke consultants, nephrologists etc) are also invited on to the programme. Care is taken to ensure that they can communicate in Urdu as much as possible.

The programme was initiated more than a year ago and to date more than 60 programmes have been delivered. The programme is also broadcasted via Facebook live meaning that listeners not only from Sheffield but other parts of the world such as Pakistan, India, UAE and Saudi Arabia can listen and participate. The programme is valued by local health care professionals and organisations who struggle to engage with hard to reach communities due to linguistic and other issues.

Conducting a radio programme is a big commitment and is daunting, however, my nursing background, language skills, and teaching ability helps me to live up to this challenge every week. My aim is to use this programme to disseminate information, promote health and improve health literacy among the local population. I always look forward to speaking to colleagues to help them disseminate health messages coming from their research. So please get in touch if you think you have a message to deliver to the South Asian community in Sheffield.