Voices from the Field: Training Boosts Rwandan Media's Skills in Reporting Population and Family Planning Stories

“With more than three years of experience reporting on health issues, I thought I had enough knowledge, but after this training, I realized that I was lacking much information on population and family planning issues,” says Brigitte Mutanguha, a health reporter from Urunana Development Communication, an organization that produces Rwanda’s most popular radio program on health.

Mutanguha and other local media practitioners resolved to be more active in educating Rwandan people on population issues and family planning during their participation in a three-day workshop in late August, 2008, organized by the IntraHealth-led Twubakane Decentralization and Health Program, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). With additional support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Twubakane brought together 30 journalists from a variety of agencies, including television, radio and newspapers.

Most of the participants had previously joined the Population Media Advocacy Network—which is supported by the United Nations Population Fund and the Ministry of Finance in Rwanda—but felt that they needed additional information to accurately report on population issues. Such training is especially pertinent given the recent successes of the Rwandan government and development partners in strengthening family planning services. Preliminary data released by Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics in May reported an increase in use of modern contraception among married women from 10% in 2005 to 27% in 2008.

“The terminology Vision 2020, and other documents related to population, come up often in my papers, but I never had the time to read the documents and get to know their content,” admits Alice Kanyamanza, a reporter with National Television of Rwanda. “It’s only today that I understand what I have to say about it and the link between population growth and development.”

The training focused on family planning as a solution to demographic problems and a way of reducing maternal and child mortality, as well as the need to educate people on responsible parenthood. Presenters included representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the Ministry of Health, and IntraHealth.

Francois Sekamondo, the Population Desk coordinator of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, emphasized how high population growth handicaps overall development and efforts to reduce poverty. “Journalists are key partners to achieve our goals, and I’m delighted to have this time to address them and get them updated on our population problems and the solutions that we are envisaging to solve them,” he says.

Dr. Eugene Rwabuneza, in charge of family planning in the Ministry of Health, explained to journalists the content of the National Family Planning Policy and its five-year strategic plan, as well as the importance of family planning as a priority component of public health.

To provide hands-on practice during the workshop, the journalists broke up into two groups and visited health centers—Kigoma in Ruhango district of Rwanda’s Southern Province and Rwamagana in Rwamagana district of the Eastern Province. During the visits, the journalists interviewed health care providers and family planning clients. Several participants broadcasted reports on the workshop and family planning that day and during the days following the event.

Twubakane will continue to work with the trained journalists, offering them ongoing opportunities to learn more about population and family planning issues and regularly tracking media outlets’ reports.

This training of journalists is one component of the Hewlett Foundation-supported initiative with IntraHealth to support family planning in Rwanda. Other activities supported by the grant include assistance to a newly created multi-sectoral task force on population and development, support to the Rwandan Network of Parliamentarians for Population and Development, and upcoming trainings of district mayors and other authorities on family planning.

A report, Family Planning in Rwanda: How a Taboo Topic Became Priority Number One, funded by the Hewlett Foundation and published by IntraHealth in June, describes the government’s progress in overcoming the tremendous social and cultural barriers to family planning in Rwanda. The report is available at www.intrahealth.org.