Radio – it’s a powerful medium, but can it save lives?
Radio – the ‘theatre of the mind’ – entertains, informs and can transport us to different worlds through powerful storytelling brought to us via the airwaves. Today, on World Radio Day, Senior Portfolio Developer Marta Tufet looks at how Wellcome Trust funded researchers are trying to determine whether radio might be even more powerful than you might first think. Could radio reduce mortality in children under five?
“This is the United Nations calling the peoples of the world”
That was the first ever message transmitted by UN Radio 69 years ago today. To celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of UN Radio – and raise awareness of the importance of broadcast radio around the globe – World Radio Day is marked on 13th February each year. It’s a welcome chance for broadcasters and listeners to talk about what makes radio so special – and why we need it now more than ever.
Even in today’s modern world of smartphones and wireless internet, when it comes to improving global health and reaching out to those most in need, it seems that radio, coupled with science, can exert a unique power that even the most sophisticated media platforms can’t match.
With support from the Wellcome Trust and the Planet Wheeler Foundation, Development Media International (DMI) together with researchers at the London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) are keen to prove that mass radio campaigns can significantly reduce child mortality. They are using a robust, scientific, randomised control trial in Burkina Faso, to show that radio really does have the power to change, and indeed save, lives.
Previous studies have demonstrated that health-messaging campaigns can change knowledge, but whether this translates into behavioural change, and subsequent reduced mortality is still not clear. Billions of dollars have been invested in attempts to reduce child mortality, through the delivery of drugs and vaccines, hospital revamps, and deployment of doctors and nurses. Although these investments are working well in some areas, limited progress has been made towards the Millennium Development Goal 4: to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
Unfortunately, despite this big financial investment, getting people to change their behaviour and proactively use available services (e.g. seeking care for pneumonia) or adopt life-protecting measures (e.g. sleeping under a bed-net to avoid malaria) has proved a difficult nut to crack.
But how do you change someone’s behaviour? DMI and LSHTM think they have found the answer: saturation, science and stories. They explain this idea an article describing their work, which is published in the Lancet today.
The team’s unique radio campaigning involves research on which behaviours are predicted to save most lives, coupled with intensive broadcasting of creative stories that aim to touch emotions as a means to change deeply engrained beliefs. For the past 35 months they have been campaigning uninterrupted despite numerous challenges, including a people’s coup to topple the country’s leader – who after 27 years appeared to have overstayed his welcome! They are now in the process of rigorously evaluating the success of their intervention with results expected in the last quarter of 2015.
Like the UN in 1946, DMI is calling to all the peoples of the world through radio. They predict that combining science and creative communication, if these campaigns were implemented in ten African countries for five years, the lives of a million children under five could be saved.
Stayed tuned to find out how they get on with this ambitious aim!