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Family Planning Radio Program is Saving Lives in Sierra Leone

Feb 14, 2013

An innovative Population Media Center radio drama in Sierra Leone is motivating men and women to visit family planning and reproductive health facilities.

Shelburne, VT (PRWEB) February 12, 2013

Sierra Leone’s devastated health and social service infrastructure, left over from the civil war which lasted from 1991 to 2002, has long hindered economic and social development in the country.

But a popular new radio program, being aired on five of Sierra Leone’s most successful radio stations, is saving the lives of countless mothers and babies by improving maternal and reproductive health.

The drama, called Saliwansai, uses character development and role modeling techniques to provide accurate information regarding the safety of contraception and family planning. Airing twice per week throughout the country, the show also addresses compelling social issues such as HIV/AIDS and gender based violence.

Population Media Center (PMC), a progressive, non-profit media company with country offices around the world, trained Sierra Leone writers on how to create the highly entertaining story-lines of Saliwansai. Local actors and producers work in a state-of-the-art recording studio built by PMC, which is located in the capital city of Freetown. The team will eventually record 208 episodes.

“The writers of Saliwansai have created an intricate storyline, with suspenseful plot twists that have captivated audiences across the country,” says Bill Ryerson, president and founder of Population Media Center. “The show is proving to be an important source of family planning and reproductive health information for audiences.”

Health for All, a health-focused civil society organization in Sierra Leone, is conducting monthly exit interviews of clients visiting Ministry of Health family planning and reproductive health facilities in the country. This data shows that of all clients who cited radio programs as their source of family planning information, 82 percent specifically named Saliwansai as the radio program that motivated their visit.

In the drama, each character follows their own personal journey, with challenges revolving around health, education, relationships, and family planning issues. Audiences then learn from the experiences the characters undergo in the story.
According to the United Nations Human Development Index, important health indicators in Sierra Leone, like maternal and infant mortality, currently rank as some of the lowest in the world. Life expectancy is just 47 years. Sierra Leone’s contraceptive use rate is also very low – only 7 percent of married women in Sierra Leone use a modern method of contraception, compared to the global average of 57 percent.

On average, a Sierra Leonean woman will bear 5 children in her lifetime. As a result, the current population of 6.1 million is projected to increase to 7.8 million by 2025 – a 27 percent increase in just 12 years. Initial results of Saliwansai reveal that radio dramas can be effective in motivating men and women to visit family planning and reproductive health facilities.

“We look forward to the continued success of the program,” concluded Ryerson.

Population Media Center (PMC) is a non-profit, international non-governmental 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 a decade of field experience using the Sabido methodology of behavior change communications. PMC has produced or collaborated on programs which have aired in 45 countries worldwide.

Mr. Ryerson has a 40-year history of working in the field of reproductive health, including 25 years of experience adapting the Sabido methodology for behavior change communications to various cultural settings worldwide. Before founding Population Media Center, he served as Director of the Population Institute’s Youth and Student Division, Development Director of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, Associate Director of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Executive Vice President of Population Communications International. Mr. Ryerson is listed in several editions of Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the East. In 2006, he was awarded the Nafis Sadik Prize for Courage from the Rotarian Action Group on Population and Development. Most recently, in 2011 he was nominated for the “Courage in Leadership” award as part of the Green Mountain Environmental Leadership Awards for PMC’s work.