Malawi Youth Journalists Prompt Increase in HIV Testing via Community Radio Program
Across several districts in Malawi, HP+ supports youth journalists to produce weekly community radio programs. These programs focus on youth-centered reproductive health topics that encourage good practices and counter the spread of misinformation. Responding to lower than usual rates of HIV testing among pregnant teens, in early June, Nkhotakota Radio aired a program urging these teens to get tested for HIV to reduce the risk of transmission to their unborn children.
The program, titled “Benefits of Pregnant Teens Getting an HIV Test,” aired on June 6. Local 17-year-old Serah Nkanda, who learned she was pregnant in April, was listening. She contacted Nkhotakota Community Radio after hearing the program.
“I was listening to the program with my parents,” she explained. “I had never visited any health center because of my shyness. My mom insisted that I should go for an HIV test after she heard how important it is for me and my baby. I went to the district hospital and got tested.”
The District Health Office reported that, in the two weeks following the broadcast, testing was higher than ever—about 40 additional pregnant teens visited the facility for HIV testing, bringing the total for June to 62 girls tested. Approximately 11 percent of women in Malawi ages 15-29 are living with HIV, according to the country’s most recent Demographic and Health Survey; in 2018, about one-third of all new HIV infections in Malawi occurred among people ages 15-24, according to UNAIDS.
The increase in testing is welcome news. Nkhotakota Radio youth reporters had examined data from youth-friendly health service (YFHS) facility administrators and discovered that the number of pregnant adolescent girls being tested for HIV at Nkhotakota District Hospital had dropped by 50 percent between March and May 2020, even though adolescent birth numbers remained the same. Normally, an average of 44 pregnant teens come to the hospital each month for HIV testing, according to YFHS coordinator Josen Chizala; this past spring, the number was 22.
Through Developing Radio Partners and the Population Reference Bureau, HP+ has trained more than 100 youth reporters and radio listening club members on how to produce weekly radio programs about youth reproductive health topics. In addition to learning how to create changemaking radio programs, these youth have gained important leadership skills. Several youth participants have gone on to form and lead youth organizations that lobby local and regional leaders on issues important to youth, including health and education.
Nkhotakota District Hospital nurse Chimwemwe Nyasulu expressed her appreciation for the broadcast. “The program…has brought a positive change on the number of teenage girls coming for HIV testing,” she explained. “This is what community radio is supposed to do.”