This week millions across Britain will tune in to the Archers and enjoy the BBC's tales of milk prices and the Christmas pantomime. In South Sudan, first hand stories of living with HIV/AIDS are more likely to hit the airwaves.
It might seem strange that a medium which we associate with updates on the everyday life of country folk could have a very real impact on the health of millions. But in South Sudan, where low levels of education contribute to the very severe burden of HIV/AIDS, Merlin is using radio programmes to do exactly that.
Our health workers don't just rely on their medical knowledge, but use the medium of radio to get life-saving messages across. And the shows that are broadcast also invite listeners to phone-in, sharing their experiences of life with HIV/AIDS and by doing so, reduce stigma.
In fact, 17% of the country's most popular radio programmes are geared towards raising awareness of the disease.
Among the many challenges of tackling diseases like HIV/AIDS in South Sudan - where health systems are heavily reliant on non-governmental organisations after decades of civil war - is the fact that even the culture of seeking health care is very rare. Few South Sudanese have ever made a visit to a clinic. Indeed, only one in ten births are attended by a skilled health professional.
Moreover, knowledge of how HIV/AIDS spreads is low and the contraceptive use rate in South Sudan currently stands at just 3.5%.
Merlin always works in partnership with local ministries of health to build sustainable services which will remain long after we leave a country. Which is why in South Sudan, we decided to combat HIV/AIDS through education on prevention and treatment.
In a country where 88% of women and 66% of men are illiterate, we had to take a creative approach to spreading these messages. Which is why we opted for radio, allowing us to reach 59% of the population. By contrast only 14% read newspapers.
Our radio talk shows and promotional slots, funded by a grant from the World Health Organisation, have been absolutely fundamental to spreading life saving messages to youth and the wider population.
In addition to publicising how treatment can be obtained and the importance of doing so, Merlin's HIV treatment supporters, all of whom are HIV-positive themselves, give real life testimonies on how antiretroviral treatment has helped them by enabling them to life longer lives of better quality.
Speaking in local languages, they also share personal stories of disclosing their condition to relatives and friends and the difficulties and benefits of doing so. During the show anyone can call in and ask questions without fear of stigma or discrimination.
We believe education is fundamental to encouraging early diagnosis and treatment, which in turn saves countless lives. Encouraging a pregnant woman who is HIV positive to seek antiretroviral treatment, for example, would protect her children from contracting the disease as well.
Merlin has also used radio to aid health initiatives successfully elsewhere, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to encourage victims of sexual violence to seek medical and emotional support.
In South Sudan these testimonies provoked unprecedented curiosity from listeners, with widespread calls for more information on how the disease can be prevented and treated.
Merlin is proud to contribute to making public discussion of HIV/AIDS socially acceptable. Getting people talking about HIV/AIDS, hearing about HIV/AIDS are vital first steps. Only from this starting point can we move towards prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
So, the next time we tune in to whatever programme we like, perhaps we should bear in mind that in some countries, a simple story line can save a life.
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