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Life-saving radio campaign launches in Burkina Faso

A pioneering project to reduce child mortality through mass media

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Development Media International (DMI) have launched a cluster randomised controlled trial of an innovative child survival intervention. 

The project is funded by the The Wellcome Trust and the Planet Wheeler Foundation, set up by the founders of the Lonely Planet travel series.

The campaign – launched on March 7 - involves the broadcast of targeted 60-second health messages on the radio and radio phone-in programmes that will run for the next two and a half years. 

The messages, developed by the School in collaboration with DMI and other partners, are designed to change the behaviour of pregnant women and mothers through increased awareness and information, and reduce the number of children dying before their fifth birthday in Burkina Faso.

The study represents the first time that the impact of mass media on lives saved has been either modelled or measured.

Lead investigator Simon Cousens, Professor of Epidemiology and Medical Statistics at  the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “We’ll be measuring the impact using a robust scientific methodology: a cluster randomised controlled trial. It will be the largest, most rigorous evaluation ever conducted of a mass media intervention and it will be exciting to find out how many lives can be saved using this approach.”

The first radio spots will promote exclusive breastfeeding – a behaviour which reduces the risk of a child dying from diarrhoea or respiratory infections. The spots will be broadcast on seven community radio stations in the West African country of Burkina Faso which have partnered with DMI to deliver the campaign.

“The project is innovative in three ways”, said  Roy Head, Managing Director of DMI. “Firstly, we’re broadcasting messages on all causes of death, not just individual issues. Secondly, we’re broadcasting very intensively: ten spots per day, and two hours of phone-in programming every night on every station. Thirdly, we’ll be measuring the impact more rigorously than has ever been done before. We’re hoping to prove that we can change behaviours on a scale large enough to save a lot of lives.”

Professor Cousens and colleagues have produced a mathematical model, based on the Lancet’s Child Survival Series, which calculates the number of lives that can be saved by a comprehensive media campaign. The model predicts that a three-year campaign can reduce childhood mortality by 15-20% per year. 

It also predicts that its cost-effectiveness (at between $2 and $9 per ‘disability-adjusted life year’ or DALY) is better than any other currently available intervention, including bed nets for malaria and childhood immunisations. If the model's predictions are validated, it will be the cheapest way of saving children’s lives that exists.

The project relies on close partnerships within Burkina Faso. The evaluation of the intervention is managed in partnership with Centre Muraz, a biomedical research institute in Burkina Faso and the project is being delivered in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Burkina Faso.

(Image credit: Development Media International)

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