Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust (MLW) is one of the Wellcome Trust Major Overseas programmes and conducts biomedical research on tropical health problems in Malawi. An integrated science communication programme leads MLW’s public engagement strategy which includes a health talk radio show ‘Umoyo Nkukambirana’ (Let’s talk about health). Radio is an effective source of health information in resource poor contexts. In Malawi, 53% of the population own radios (MDHS, 2010) and most people have access to one. Despite this communication opportunity, science reporting is poor and no radio programme has yet focused on medical research or the provision of comprehensive health information. The show was introduced on a national radio station to increase awareness of health and medical research and improve engagement between researchers, clinicians and the general public. This show was developed through participatory community consultation to determine content and presentation. Topics suggested included: malaria, cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis. Each programme contained panel discussions between health experts and communities, weekly questions with prizes, poetry, songs and drama performed by communities. An integrated and parallel monitoring and evaluation package, using quantitative and qualitative methods was used to assess the programme. Radio Listener Clubs were created in rural locations and Focus Group Discussions were conducted to assess process and impact of the programme. Data was collected through toll free SMS using Frontline SMS technology to explore national response to the show. Six monthly themes in line with MLW research were featured in the shows. These were research and blood, malaria, meningitis, DNA, TB, diabetes and cancer. The average number of SMS received per theme was 448. The theme of meningitis received the highest number of SMS (19%). More SMSs were sent by men (64%) and the majority (46%) in proportion to overall population came from urban areas. The programme improved listener knowledge of medical research and health and clarified misconceptions about symptoms and practice such as demystifying beliefs that blood samples are taken for supernatural purposes. The programme also impacted on intended and reported health seeking behaviour. Health talk radio programmes have the potential to increase knowledge about medical research and improve engagement with health providers if the content is developed in response to listener needs.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Public engagement through a health talk radio programme

Deborah Nyirenda   Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Malawi

Tamara Chipasula   Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Malawi

Greyson Chapita   Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Malawi

Thomasena O‘Byrne   Action Meningitis, Malawi

Chisomo Mdala   Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Development Broadcasting Unit, Malawi

Robert Heyderman – Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Malawi

Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust (MLW) is one of the Wellcome Trust Major Overseas programmes and conducts biomedical research on tropical health problems in Malawi. An integrated science communication programme leads MLW’s public engagement strategy which includes a health talk radio show ‘Umoyo Nkukambirana’ (Let’s talk about health). Radio is an effective source of health information in resource poor contexts. In Malawi, 53% of the population own radios (MDHS, 2010) and most people have access to one. Despite this communication opportunity, science reporting is poor and no radio programme has yet focused on medical research or the provision of comprehensive health information. The show was introduced on a national radio station to increase awareness of health and medical research and improve engagement between researchers, clinicians and the general public. This show was developed through participatory community consultation to determine content and presentation. Topics suggested included: malaria, cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis. Each programme contained panel discussions between health experts and communities, weekly questions with prizes, poetry, songs and drama performed by communities. An integrated and parallel monitoring and evaluation package, using quantitative and qualitative methods was used to assess the programme. Radio Listener Clubs were created in rural locations and Focus Group Discussions were conducted to assess process and impact of the programme. Data was collected through toll free SMS using Frontline SMS technology to explore national response to the show. Six monthly themes in line with MLW research were featured in the shows. These were research and blood, malaria, meningitis, DNA, TB, diabetes and cancer. The average number of SMS received per theme was 448. The theme of meningitis received the highest number of SMS (19%). More SMSs were sent by men (64%) and the majority (46%) in proportion to overall population came from urban areas. The programme improved listener knowledge of medical research and health and clarified misconceptions about symptoms and practice such as demystifying beliefs that blood samples are taken for supernatural purposes. The programme also impacted on intended and reported health seeking behaviour. Health talk radio programmes have the potential to increase knowledge about medical research and improve engagement with health providers if the content is developed in response to listener needs.

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