World Radio Day is the 13th February, first proclaimed by UNESCO in 2011 to highlight the importance and promote innovation of the medium. Radio continues to play a unique role in human development communication thanks to its ubiquity, accessibility and low cost.
Radio broadcast signals reach 95% of the global population – more than any other medium- according to the International Telecommunication Union. In the poorest parts of the world where electricity is restricted and newer technologies are expensive, a battery-operated radio set provides information, education and entertainment.
For many international agencies and development organisations sustainable social change is best achieved with the participation and commitment of local communities. Community radio stations create a forum where citizens of any educational level and income can engage in discussions about the development needs of their communities. Two-way communication between radio presenters and listeners is facilitated by mobile phones and through innovative radio formats like phone-in shows, radio forums and participatory radio dramas, allowing the voice of citizens to be heard.
Sharing knowledge and information to prevent child mortality
Last year, researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), working in partnership with Development Media International, started a project in Burkina Faso using radio and social marketing techniques to broadcast health messages to pregnant women and mothers with the aim of significantly reducing the child mortality rate.
The advertising campaign consists of ten 60-second radio spots and a two-hour phone-in radio show broadcast daily over three years on community radio stations across seven regions of Burkina Faso. In addition to the intervention, an evaluation will include seven equivalent control groups and baseline and endline mortality surveys of 100,000 people. The researcher, Professor Simon Cousens, says this project is ‘the largest, most rigorous evaluation ever conducted of a mass media intervention’. If their mathematical models are correct, the intervention could lead to a 15-20% reduction in childhood mortality after three years.
Radio + mobiles = new data collection methods
The growing availability of mobile phones increases interaction between radio stations and the public, providing unique opportunities for social research. Survey questions can be aired to a mass population through radio, and answers collected via calls and text messages.
The availability of free-source SMS text management technology such as FrontlineSMS makes it possible to collect, organise and categorise feedback in real time, including the geographical location of the users. These multiple ‘two-way conversations’ not only empower listeners through giving individuals and communities a ‘voice’, but also share invaluable, on the ground information and data.
Africa’s Voices is a Cambridge University-led project working with 11 community radio stations in different African countries. Listeners are asked specific questions about political, economic, environmental and social issues and respond via text messages. Responses are compiled using FrontlineSMS Radio software. The data is then compared with data collected on the same topics in other countries in Africa with the overall aim of becoming ‘a major collaborative platform that will enhance debate, discussion and knowledge on Africa’s public opinions.’
Cost effectiveness and MDGs
Data collected by the Cambridge-led project is probably done at the lowest cost possible, considering the continental scope of the project and the time sensitivity of the questions asked.
If the model proposed by the LSHTM project achieves its target to reduce child mortality by 15% in three years, this intervention would be the most cost-effective way of tackling child mortality compared to mosquito nets and childhood immunisations.
The results of this project will demonstrate the impact of radio in changing behaviours to improve health indicators and reduce child mortality in a low-income country. This evidence will be very useful for development practitioners and planners, informing the design of future interventions that positively contribute to the aims of the Millennium Development Goals.
You can listen to the podcast ‘Reducing child mortality using Radio in Burkina Faso’ with Professor Simon Cousens from the LSHTM.
Contributed by Carlos Chirinos, Director and Commissioning Editor of SOAS Radio.