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How a Simple Radio Campaign Saved 3,000 Children in Africa

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Malaria is one of the top three health risks for children under age 5 in Africa. Efforts to eliminate these diseases are key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 on good health and well-being for all. Take action here.

Mass media helped save the lives of a thousand children per year in Africa between 2012 and 2015 — but if you’re thinking this is just more kudos for Facebook or Twitter, you’d be wrong.

Reuters reports that a trial radio campaign in Burkina Faso promoting treatment for malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea — three of the leading health risks to children under five — saved the lives of 3,000 minors.

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"What this study shows is that using mass media to drive people to health centers is actually more cost-effective than almost anything on earth in terms of saving children's lives," Roy Head, one of the leaders of the study, told Reuters. "And that makes sense — it reaches millions of people at a time — but this is the first time it has been shown in a scientific trial."

Researchers told Reuters that they used a “saturation” method of intensive radio transmissions to promote behavior change in a population, broadcasting on seven radio stations within a 30-mile radius. Seven other radio station areas did not broadcast the campaign, and instead were used as controls for comparison purposes.

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The first paper analyzing the results of the campaign was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Global Health on Tuesday, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported. The study noted that consultations for children under age 5 at primary health centers increased for malaria by 56% in year one and 37% year two; for pneumonia by 39% in year one and 25% in year two; and for diarrhea by 73% in year one and 60% in year two.

As a result, diagnoses shot up as well.

The number of cases of malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea diagnosed rose in all three years of the study, including a 107% rise in diarrhea diagnoses in year three and a 56% rise in malaria diagnoses in year one, according to Reuters.

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The total number of cases analyzed was massive, rising to more than 12,000 per month for malaria during the peak season, and peaking at 4,000 per month for pneumonia. Diarrhea cases peaked at around 900 per month, according to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Data from more than 1.1 million consultations and deliveries were evaluated in all.

The power of the campaign to prevent life-threatening illnesses cannot be overstated, the researchers say — especially in low-income countries.

"Pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea are three of the biggest killers of children in sub-Saharan Africa," said Simon Cousens, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in an interview with Reuters. "This research provides evidence that mass media has an important role to play in persuading parents to seek life-saving treatment for children."