Indian Radio Show Tackles Stigma on HIV/AIDS

In a world where misconceptions and stigma still cloud discussions of HIV/AIDS, a recently-launched radio program in southern India offers a refreshing take on HIV/AIDS dialogue. True to its name-Ini Oru Vidhi Seivom (From Now On We Will Make Our Own Destiny)-the program has taken matters into its own hands, providing accurate and helpful information that might otherwise be hard to find. More importantly, Ini Oru Vidhi Seivom incorporates listener input to respond to what the community really needs.

The program debuted simultaneously on eight stations of the state broadcaster, All India Radio, in Tamil Nadu and Paducherry in April of this year, and reaches an estimated five million listeners. The talk show hosts were trained by Internews Networks Local Voices project in India, in partnership with the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS).

The talk show combines a four-minute news feature primarily focusing on prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) and public service announcements on HIV/AIDS, with a fifteen-minute live phone-in session. The phone-in sessions feature a studio guest-usually a doctor, a person living with HIV/AIDS, a counselor, or an NGO representative.

Listeners are invited to write in their own questions and to answer the weekly prize question. An FM radio set is given away for the correct answer to each prize question.

Internews

On average, the show attracts close to 200 letters and 40 calls from rural and urban listeners across two states every week. Listeners questions rage from basic ones such as, “Does HIV spread through mosquito bites?” to “My wife is HIV-negative and I am positive. Is it possible for us to have an HIV-free baby?”

The news features on Ini Oru Vidhi Seivom take listeners through a logical sequence of information, from how HIV spreads and how the disease affects the immune system to discussing what it means to be HIV-positive. The radio series works to alleviate common misunderstandings about HIV/AIDS, link people to services, and encourage couples to get tested.

The programs hosts, doctors and other guests stress the importance of family planning and seeking medical care during pregnancy and childbirth. Program directors especially hope to reach populations not covered by mainstream services and resources.

“We have so many people calling from interior remote areas in Tamil Nadu, clarifying their doubts and participating in the program actively,” says Supriya Sahu, Project Director of TANSACS. “This is one of the best examples of a partnership where you can reach out to the communities in a very cost-effective intervention.”

Ini Oru Vidhi Seivom not only benefits the listeners but is also an important resource for other local health services. Indian policymakers hope to use listeners call-in questions to create a set of FAQs (frequently asked questions) for the states HIV education strategy. Similarly, the wrong answers to the weekly prize question will inform service providers of the work that lies ahead in dispelling common misconceptions. TANSACS also plans to address any concerns about access to services.

“This type of integrated mass media effort is a first for India,” says Dr. Jayalakshmi Shreedhar, Project Director, Local Voices India. “If the initiative continues to be successful, the skys the limit for future themes, geographic locations, and partner organizations.”

Ini Oru Vidhi Seivom airs on Tuesdays and is rebroadcast on Fridays. It is scheduled to air through October 2008.

Internews Local Voices program works to train and support radio journalists, talk show hosts, and deejays to report accurately and effectively on HIV/AIDS and other public health issues. Internews health journalism programs in Africa and India are funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Presidents Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.



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