Safety for You: Raising Malaria Awareness

Malaria infections are on the rise in Cambodia and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of contracting the disease.  Ill-educated about how to prevent or treat malaria, many Cambodians take the simplest precautions to protect themselves and do not properly treat the disease when infected. In turn, this has resulted in the spread of multi-drug resistant malaria and Cambodia has become the epicenter of this global health crisis.

Equal Access, with support from University Research Co. and the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, has been conducting malaria communications projects designed to educate Cambodians about the causes of malaria and methods to prevent, detect, and treat the disease.

As part of these efforts, Equal Access has produced two branded radio programs. The first, Safety for You, is a magazine-style show with drama features, interviews with experts, and voices from communities around the country. The second, I Care About My Health, is a live call-in show co-produced by EA and its partner radio station in Battambang province.  Listeners in Cambodia’s heavily forested western regions call with questions and comments and chat with doctors and other public health workers who help to correct misconceptions and provide expert advice to listeners. I Care About My Health has finished the second series and is not currently being broadcast.

The shows have covered topics ranging from simple and affordable ways to prevent malaria to treatment methods, and aim to dispel myths surrounding home remedies and encourage the audience to seek proper medical care.

Many Cambodian communities have volunteer malaria workers – community members trained to spot malaria, advise on prevention, and refer patients to doctors and health services.  People are often unaware of the role of these volunteers or that they provide free care and advice to rural villagers.  EA’s radio programs highlight the importance of community malaria workers and encourage listeners to use this service. Furthermore, as part of the Global Fund-supported project, the volunteers are working with Equal Access to facilitate listening circles and peer-to-peer learning activities, which help to deepen understanding of messages presented through the radio programs.

These listening circles, or ‘listening and dialogue groups’, have been established in three provinces – Koh Kong, Kratie and Steung Treng. Community members come together to hear the radio programmes and engage in discussions about program topics, which are led by an EA-trained facilitator.  This allows listeners to hear experiences of others around them and gain new perspectives on the dangers of malaria. Together, the community explores ways of promoting safety and good health.

Listening and dialogue group facilitators have reported that people in their groups are taking noticeable precautionary actions against malaria since they began listening to the shows together – such as sleeping under insecticide-treated nets and dressing their children in long sleeved clothing in the late evening and night when malaria-carrying mosquitoes feed.

“Before [listening to the show], when I had malaria, my mother would treat me through prayer because the family was superstitious,” one listener said. “I was not sent to a health center or hospital.  Now that I have listened to this radio program I clearly understand this issue and have explained it to my mother.  Now when someone in the family thinks they may have malaria, my mother sends them to the clinic.”

With anecdotal evidence suggesting high levels of repeat listeners to EA malaria programming, our engaging formats have the potential to reach and educate thousands of at risk Cambodian people to avoid this preventable disease.