June 26, 2007

Merundio - The radio drama in Guyana

The Mission - To work creatively with all media, groups and individuals to motivate individuals and communities to make choices that reduce their vulnerability and encourage positive behavior change to reduce transmission of HIV.

HIV/AIDS Problem

Guyana is the second poorest country in the Caribbean and is believed to have the third highest HIV infection rate in the region. The results of the Behavioral Surveillance Survey (BSS) of 2004-2005 indicate a generally high awareness of HIV and its methods of transmission amongst youth, but there remains considerable stigma associated with an individual’s HIV status. Although reported sexual debut amongst school children is low – about 15 years old for 43% of boys and 22 % of girls, consistent condom use in this group is 43%. Men having sex with men is reportedly low (2%) but anecdotal evidence suggest the true incidence to be considerably higher. There is widespread migration resulting in a large Guyanese Diaspora in the Caribbean, the US and Canada. These immigrants span a broad spectrum, from entrepreneurs and financial experts to health care workers and teachers and results in a loss of human capital that undermines the Guyana Government’s capacity to provide quality health, education, and social services. Cross-border trade, mining and travel between Guyana and Brazil have also been increasing significantly in recent years. The search for gold and diamonds has produced a significant increase in migrant workers including Brazilians who have little or no access to services including HIV/AIDS information, counseling and health care. As many of the small mining operations are run by unregistered Guyanese miners and illegal Brazilians, reaching these undocumented migrant workers with information and services poses a serious challenge.

The Radio Drama

Merundoi, a campy locally produced radio drama, was launched in Guyana on October 16, 2006. Two 15-minute episodes are aired twice weekly on the FM and medium wave channels. The response to the countrywide field test of the pilot suggests that Merundoi reflects the reality of life in Guyana. It’s common to hear Guyanese say: “The characters are just like us”; “It’s like listening to my own life”; “this is for all Guyanese”; “It has humor, but it can also make me cry”. Merundoi reaches people on three levels – intellectual, emotional and instinctual. Ongoing dialogue between CDC GAP Guyana and its Caribbean partners, including the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS and the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS, ensures that the radio drama will appeal to a wider Caribbean audience.
The behavioral issues being addressed by Merundoi are: delayed initiation/abstinence, monogamy/faithfulness, positive parent and child communication, alcohol reduction, correct and consistent condom use, adequate access to HIV and STI services, and reduction of stigma and discrimination.
The story unfolds through positive, negative, and transitional characters. Merundoi recognizes that the power of a social radio drama lies in the values-consistent behavior displayed by its cast of characters therefore it employs this deliberate technique to ensure that positive characters remain consistently positive and negative characters remain consistently negative. The HIV/AIDS subject matter is being introduced gradually into the series.

Reinforcing the Messages

Unique to the MARCH Project are interpersonal community-based reinforcement which serve as an adjunct to the radio serial drama. This is aimed at: encouraging exposure to the radio drama; conveying accurate information and dispelling misinformation; helping individuals apply information and integrate new ideas to their own situation; fostering positive expectations with regard to new, healthier behavior; supporting individuals as they develop self-efficacy in key areas (e.g., talking to partner, condom use, etc.); stimulating development of behavioral and negotiation skills; augmenting individuals’ ability to plan and strategize; reducing barriers to prevention; and creating a supportive environment for people living with HIV and AIDS. The reinforcement activities are being implemented by the Ministry of Education, non governmental organizations (NGOs), faith based organizations (FBOs), the US Peace Corps and the workplace through public-private partnerships. This is done through listening and discussion groups, community street theatre and infusing Merundoi content into the Health and Family Life Education curriculum for Grade Nine students.

Monitoring and Evaluation

MARCH is an evidence-based program, thus formative research was conducted to identify local attitudes and practices on a range of reproductive health issues, HIV and AIDS and family life. This formative research was used to guide the messages and the development of characters and storylines. There will be ongoing and systematic monitoring to measure audience reaction while the radio drama is on the air and provide feedback to the creative team, as well as periodic evaluation to measure changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors among listeners. If one is in Guyana one would find our writers in schools, market places, bars, in the streets and down back alleys. This is essential to keep the story real and dynamic.

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