Radio Campaign Saved Lives in Burkina Faso

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SEATTLE — Between 2012 and 2015, a mass radio campaign saved lives by increasing the number of medical consultations and diagnoses in Burkina Faso. By urging treatment for malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea in children, the radio campaign led to 3,000 life-saving diagnoses. Researchers led the campaign in a rural area of Burkina Faso, where other means of mass media are generally unavailable. Their successes suggest that similar media campaigns could serve a crucial role in helping lower child mortality rates in rural, low-income areas.

Health Conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Since 1990, the mortality rate for children under the age of 5 has dropped by more than 50 percent. While this progress is promising, there is still work to be done. Notable differences in child mortality rates persist globally, with higher mortality rates in rural areas, where household incomes are low. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Burkina Faso, still suffer high child mortality rates. For example, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest mortality rate for children under the age of 5, with one out of every 13 children dying before reaching age 5.

The majority of these deaths are preventable. In fact, three common causes of death in children under the age of 5, diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia, are entirely avoidable through simple and cost-effective treatments. With this radio campaign, researchers wanted to see if greater exposure to information about common symptoms of these diseases would help lower child mortality. The radio campaign saved lives in Burkina Faso by giving parents this crucial information about preventable diseases.

How the Radio Campaign Saved Lives in Burkina Faso

The researchers utilized a saturation method in the radio campaign, broadcasting transmissions regularly over a three-year period. They hoped constant broadcasting would change long-term behavior in the population by encouraging parents to take their children to health centers. The study focused on dispersing information about the causes and symptoms of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea through various rural communities.

The campaign operated from seven radio stations in Burkina Faso, each with a broadcast radius of approximately 30 miles. Another seven stations were kept as the control group and did not participate in the broadcasts. The researchers looked at data collected in health facilities by analyzing trends related to the rate of treatment-seeking behavior. Over the study, the researchers evaluated data from more than one million consultations and deliveries.

Roy Head, a leader of the study, noted that consultations and diagnoses increased significantly within the 30-mile radius that received the radio broadcasts. In fact, the diagnosed cases of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea increased during every year of the study. For example, diagnoses of malaria went up by 56 percent in the first year alone. With significantly higher rates of diagnosis for the targeted illnesses, the campaign was a rousing success, with great potential for future use.

Effectiveness of Mass Media in Rural Areas

According to Simon Cousens, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, these findings suggest that similar mass media campaigns could be crucial in informing parents and helping children get diagnosed and treated in low-income countries. The campaign is cost-effective, since it reaches many people simultaneously. The simple delivery of information through the radio campaign saved lives by prompting parents to get their children life-saving treatment.

As Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, an assistant professor of social psychology at the London School of Economic and Political Science, notes, the radio campaign was effective because radio is the primary form of media in rural areas of Burkina Faso. However, she warns that the results may be difficult to replicate in other areas where technology is more prevalent. With more forms of media competing for people’s attention, it is more difficult to ensure that crucial messages will reach everybody. Thus, as countries develop and audiences have access to more forms of media, tactics like the radio campaign will likely need to be updated to remain effective.

Still, looking forward, these types of low-cost, mass media campaigns could lead to lower child mortality rates in rural areas. In places where radio is the primary form of entertainment, the broadcasts have greater potential, since there are not as many competing forms of media. Promoting radio campaigns like this one in rural areas could contribute to lower child mortality rates worldwide.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr

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