PMC founder Bill Ryerson poses for a photo with Negussie
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Entertainment-Education Program Bolsters Ethiopian Public Health Initiative

Dec 02, 2013

SHELBURNE, VT – An entertainment-education radio serial drama broadcast in Ethiopia has effectively increased awareness of HIV prevention methods and modern sanitation in the country, while also familiarizing citizens with the country’s innovative public health initiative.

The award-winning program, named Mieraf (“New Beginning”), was produced by Population Media Center (PMC), a global leader in entertainment-education. It was broadcast in Ethiopia twice a week from June 2010 through December 2011.

The highly-entertaining and informative drama was designed by PMC’s Ethiopia office to support the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health’s large-scale public health initiative, known as the Health Extension Program (HEP). Launched in 2006, the health extension program employs 30,000 community-based workers, known as Health Extension Workers, to help provide essential health services at the grassroots level.

By 2010, however, authorities had realized the program’s services – which included providing family planning assistance, prevention of HIV/AIDS and malaria, and improving sanitation – were being under-utilized by Ethiopian citizens. In turn, this was causing morale to drop among the Health Extension Workers.

In order to help promote the importance of health extension workers, boost their morale and encourage people to use their services, PMC was retained to produce its flagship product – an entertainment-education behavior-change radio serial drama.

The effective use of entertainment-education in international development work hinges on the realization that emotional as well as cognitive factors influence behaviors. Specifically, social learning theory demonstrates that humans adopt many of their values and learn much of their behavior from role models. By employing local writers, actors and producers to create culturally-specific stories that show the gradual evolution of character role-models in response to real-life problems that audience members are facing, PMC’s serial dramas can facilitate the adoption of new behaviors.

The Mieraf radio serial drama was infused with highly entertaining characters, plot-twists and cliffhangers. It tells the story of Hibist, a 21-year-old-girl living with her family in a rural village in Ethiopia. Two of Hibist’s female siblings die young because of birthing complications, leaving Hibist as the only girl in a family of four living children. With very traditional parents, she struggles to find her place among her three brothers and to overcome the challenges of being female in a male-dominated society. Despite the criticism she endures from all sides, Hibist completes her 10-year education and joins the Health Extension Worker Program, where she is determined to find a way to improve the health of her family and community.

Throughout the course of the drama, Hibist is confronted with numerous challenges – her relationship with her fiancé hangs in a delicate balance; she must survive the temptations of drugs and alcohol; and she must fight against a malaria outbreak in her village by teaching her neighbors to use malaria nets and to drain dirty water from ponds and pools to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

A UNICEF commissioned analysis of the program, completed in 2012, shows that listeners to the program were 3.6 times more likely to know about HIV prevention methods than non-listeners. Listeners were also 1.9 times more likely to know about sanitation measures than non-listeners and had better awareness of the Health Extension Program. Mieraf also won a Global Media Award for best radio serial drama.

“Awareness of the effectiveness of entertainment-education initiatives in promoting health and human rights objectives continues to build in the international development community,” said Bill Ryerson, founder and president of PMC. “In addition to being highly effective as stand-alone interventions, the strong results from Mieraf should further reinforce the notion that behavior change serial dramas can also be leveraged as powerful supplements to both new and existing development initiatives.”

About Population Media Center (PMC):
Population Media Center (PMC) is a nonprofit, international nongovernmental organization, which strives to improve the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education strategies, like serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role models for the audience for positive behavior change. Founded in 1998, PMC has over 15 years of field experience using the Sabido methodology of behavior change communications, impacting more than 50 countries around the world.