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Better Health Through Drama - 2002-10-03

Here in the United States, one of the most popular types of television shows is the medical drama. Each week, millions of people tune in to watch intrepid doctors trying to save their patients. In Uganda, a new medical drama premiered last night (Wednesday night). The show’s developers say it’s designed not only to entertain, but also to inform viewers about major health issues.

The program – called Center 4 – airs each Wednesday evening at 7 o’clock on TV Africa. Like its American counterparts, the program – according to promotional material – “features a compelling cast of Ugandan characters facing life and death challenges.”

Center 4 was developed by the DISH Project - which stands for Delivery of Improved Services for Health – in conjunction with the Ugandan Ministry of Health, Johns Hopkins, USAID and the Ford Foundation.

Nankunda Allen is a former communications specialist with the Dish Project – and currently an acting director with the Communication for Development Foundation of Uganda, C-D-F-U.

She says, "It’s very interesting because it combines both drama and education. So while the audience gets entertained with this interesting drama, they also get to learn very serious health messages."

Center 4 tells about the staff of the fictional Konaweeka Health Center, which is set in a semi-rural area. In the first of thirteen episodes, the staff is surprised to learn that the new head doctor is a woman.

She says, "For instance we have this Dr. Sophia Bagala, who is one of the main characters – who is this good young medical doctor that comes to this facility and wants to change things."

Of course, as in any good medical drama, the protagonists never have an easy time. For example, the health center is facing a malaria crisis.

Ms. Allen says, "The very first one that was shown last night on TV Africa was talking about control and prevention of malaria during pregnancy. Then we also have a program on immunization. There’s one on safe motherhood, talking about deliveries at health facilities and post natal care. There’s one on immunization. There’s another program that talks about prevention of HIV transmission."

Each week, the topic changes. And what would a drama be if you didn’t have characters trying to thwart the efforts of the good doctor and her staff. There are some of those, too.

Center 4 episodes are being released on video cassette and translated into two local languages for those who do not speak English.

She says, "There’s an underlying theme of improved quality of health services to tell people that, look, services have been improved. And you can go to these facilities and get quality services."

The target audience is viewers between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Besides airing in Uganda, the program is expected to appear on television stations in more than twenty African countries facing similar health problems. It has a potential audience, according to developers, of more than 110-million people.