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Radio reminder messages prevent malaria deaths

 Street News Service 18 April 2019

Who wouldn't like the voice of a famous person talking to them right before they go to sleep? In Senegal, parents and children are treated to a 30-second radio spot every night. But instead of celebrity gossip, they are careful reminders that families should put up their mosquito nets before going to bed. (785 Words) - By Amanda Fortier

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 Senegalese women with mosquito nets. Photo courtesy of Malaria No More

Every night, just before bed, the voice of Senegal's superstar musician Youssou Ndour rings out from radio stations across the country.

"It's 9 p.m.," he sings in his native Wolof. "Are you and your family safe under your mosquito nets tonight?"

The NightWatch campaign - the first interactive media project of its kind - was launched last September by the international aid group Malaria No More and Lalela Project. The idea, to deliver public service announcements in the evenings, harks back to America in the 1980s when parents were reminded to watch over the children late at night. The campaign in Senegal, known as Fanaan Jamm, or "sleep in peace", has also teamed up with one of the country's main telephone operators TIGO. They send out daily text messages to 50,000 people around Senegal reminding them to pull down their nets before tucking in at night.

Malaria remains the number one killer of children under the age of 5 in Africa. Every 45 seconds a child dies from this preventable and treatable disease.  Reducing the number of deaths by two thirds, for children under-five, is one of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015. While Senegal has made headway, there is still work to be done.

According to Dr. Diouf, deputy coordinator of the National Malaria Control Program in Senegal, their latest research indicates that child deaths have decreased by thirty percent. In 2005, there were 121 child deaths for every 1,000 births. In 2008-2009, this number decreased to 85.

"We think our work on malaria prevention has had a big impact on this reduction of child deaths," explains Diouf. "Eight-five percent of households have at least one net. But the use of an impregnated mosquito net for children under the age of 5 is at 45% and 48% for pregnant women. So you see that in terms of use, there is still a lot of work to do."

"The power of art captures the attention of people and creates behavioral change far more readily"

The NightWatch Campaign is a one-year pilot project that has attracted some of the country's biggest named celebrities and public figures. Having the support of local footballers, religious leaders and musicians like AKON, Viviane and Youssou Ndour is a big part of the project's success. Last year, Ndour worked with Malaria no More to help spearhead the Senegalese version of the talent show, American Idol. Together they launched a cross-country song contest and combined mosquito-net distribution.

At this event, Ndour stressed the importance of making malaria campaigns culturally relevant.

"When white people come in to talk about malaria, there is a gap… If the local people listen to local people I think there can be big change. When we talk to them they understand. We have the words to tell them about (malaria) and we have a different effect."

Ndour has long been an international spokesperson for the fight against malaria in Africa and holds deep influence in his home country.

"Here in Senegal Youssou Ndour is a household figure," says Yacine Diop Djibo, country director for Malaria No More in Senegal.

"He's been in our lives for the past 30 years and has written and sang many, many songs. He is a public figure that is very well recognized and we have done also, prior to engaging him particularly, a lot of research that pointed him as the lead person that people looked up to and looked as an example of success and a person that they should be listening to."

Combing the different mediums of radio, music, and text messaging is also proving to be an effective way of informing the public about malaria prevention.

Lalela Project's founder Andrea Kerzner is an advocate of using art and culture to empower people living in extreme poverty. Her team has worked in countries around Africa using ideas and imagination to address complex problems.

"Creativity and creative means really connect people in a very emotional way," says Kerzner. "If you get people to engage in a creative setting, you're going to really engage them on a much deeper level and get them to understand. We feel the power of art captures the attention of people and creates behavioral change far more readily than just giving them the messaging and telling people what they should and should not do."

The NightWatch campaign will expand into Cameroon this summer at the same time as a nationwide distribution of 8.6 million nets.

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