Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Midwife Radio: The Entangled Trajectories of Global Health Programming, Broadcast Media, and the Indonesian State

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Midwife Radio: The Entangled Trajectories of Global Health Programming, Broadcast Media, and the Indonesian State

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Shortly after the fall of Indonesia's New Order government, the country's public radio network began limited broadcasts of a program intended to augment the midwifery skills of the biomedically trained "skilled birthing attendants," called bidan. This radio series was focused on educating rural health care providers in an efficient, modern way, reflecting the country's history of Jakarta-centered nation-building through didactic mass media. After what appeared to be relatively promising trials, the national Ministry of Health let the program languish and never brought it to full implementation. This article investigates the bidan radio series as a case study not only in public health education, but as a representation of the country's shifting narratives of nationalist modernity, and the role of mass media in reproducing them. We argue that the program depended on the medium itself as the locus of its message, and therewith national radio's historic discourse of unifying progress. Based on an ethnographic collaboration between medical and media anthropologists, this ethnohistoric research interrogates childbirth as a disputed field of cultural knowledge production, and an exemplar of broadcast media and biomedical nationalism's entangled trajectories. [Keywords: Birth attendant training, media, midwifery, global health, radio, Southeast Asia, Indonesia]

Midwife Radio: The Entangled Trajectories of Global Health Programming, Broadcast Media, and the Indonesian State

[Keywords: Birth attendant training, media, midwifery, global health, radio, Southeast Asia, Indonesia]

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Rádio Parteira: As Trajectórias Emaranhadas do Planeamento de Saúde Global, Emissão Media, e o Estado Indonésio

[Palavras-chave: Formação em partos, media, obstetrícia, saúde global, radio, Sudeste Asiático, Indonésia]

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(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Introduction

Why use a radio program to teach Indonesian biomedical midwives (bidan) how better to perform their duties? That was one of the first questions addressed on the premiere episode of the Program Radio Sahabat Bidan, or, roughly, "Midwives' Radio Companion Program," when it began broadcasting on Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) in 2002, just a few years after the fall of the 32-year-old New Order government, and its Western-aligned President Suharto. The radio series, developed with the Indonesian Midwives Association (Ikatan Bidan Indonesia) at US-based non-profit JHPIEGO, and with USAID funding, answered its own question:

Midwife mobility is very high, such that midwives often have to help with labor far from their homes or midwifery sub-clinics (polindes). That is the reason we devised this program for the radio, because radio broadcasts can be sent to many locations where midwives live and work. Meaning that midwives can listen whenever and wherever they are active.2

In actual fact, they could listen twice a week, if they were within range of the government radio network, RRI. Wrapped in a rhetorical cloak of modernity, nationalism, and biomedical rationality (see Browner 1998), this radio program was broadcast in West Java from 2002 to 2003, ostensibly as part of a larger program to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and to help train midwives serving rural communities. It included an equal mix of lessons focusing on medical issues like washing one's hands and sterilizing medical instruments, and lessons on social etiquette, which focused on how mid wives should behave and interact with rural women, their households, and communities. After 39 of the scheduled 45 programs were aired, the series was turned over to Indonesia's Ministry of Health, where producers expected that it would be expanded to nationwide broadcasts. Instead, it was shelved by the new government and never made it onto the radio again. The materials and radio recordings were, however, used in government midwifery training meetings outside of the pilot program. …

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