Centre for Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive, and Child Health

The child of the radio

By Radha Chakraborty (Creative Director, Development Media International)

Results from a randomised controlled trial conducted by Development Media International and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in rural Burkina Faso show that mass media can lead to significant increases in families of young children seeking medical attention and in diagnoses and treatment of childhood pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea.

When Mariéta was only a year old she fell ill after sleeping outside. Her father Tibandiba thought she had been cursed because a bird had flown over her while she slept – a widely held belief in rural Burkina Faso. He paid the little money he had to traditional witch doctors, but none of their remedies worked. With Tibandiba not knowing where else to turn, Mariéta grew increasingly ill and slipped into a coma.

Fortunately, one day Tibandiba overheard a radio message describing the symptoms of malaria in children and the need to quickly seek medical treatment. He took Mariéta straight to the local health centre, where she received the treatment she needed and made a full recovery. Now, the village calls her ‘the child of the radio’. Tibandiba tells us he still carries his portable radio with him wherever he goes.

Mariéta’s story is compelling. And the international development world is full of stories like hers, where tangible and immediate impact demonstrate the huge value that investments in development bring. But these stories are not enough. Donors need more than anecdotes to help them to decide where to invest – and we owe it to those allocating the funds to have robust scientific proof that our interventions work. This is particularly true in health communications, where, despite millions being spent, no one has ever shown that mass media could change health-seeking behaviours.

Well – not until now. In July of this year, Development Media International and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine published results of a randomised controlled trial of the radio campaign that Tibandiba heard in Burkina Faso. Data from over half a million routine consultations showed that treatment-seeking for sick children increased dramatically in the study’s intervention zones compared to control zones.

As a result of this increased treatment-seeking, malaria diagnoses in intervention zones increased by 56% relative to control zones in the first year of the campaign. Over the same period, pneumonia diagnoses increased by 39% and diarrhoea diagnoses by 73%.

Using the Lives Saved Tool, the team of researchers modelled the impact of these increases on child mortality in our intervention zones. The result was a 9.7% reduction in child deaths in the first year, or almost 3,000 children’s lives saved over the course of the campaign.

In terms of cost, the radio campaign costs between $7 and $27 for each additional year of healthy life, making it one of the most cost-effective ways of saving a child’s life.

This is the first time a rigorous scientific analysis has successfully been carried out on the effects of mass media on health behaviours. We are delighted by these results and are committed to bringing scientific rigour to our campaigns as we undertake our next randomised controlled trial on the effect of mass media campaigns on sexual and reproductive health.

This project was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Planet Wheeler Foundation.

Watch an animation about this research here.

DMI Radio campaign, independently evaluated by LSHTM, indicates almost 3,000 lives saved due to radio campaign

Results from the first randomised controlled trial to show that mass media can significantly change health-seeking behaviours have been published today in BMJ Global Health. The study shows that a mass radio campaign in rural Burkina Faso resulted in a significant rise in families of young children seeking medical attention and in diagnoses and treatment of deadly illness.

An accompanying article shows that it could be one of the most cost-effective ways to save children’s lives in low-income countries. The campaign promoted treatment-seeking for three of the biggest killers of children under five: malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Photo: Tibandiba Lankoandé tuning his radio (© Jean-Claude Frisque)

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