A Positive Media Story from Bangladesh

From Dr Mary Myers, iMedia Associate: Recently Bangladesh has become synonymous with negative stories surrounding its media: murders of bloggers, attacks on writers and journalists, the blocking of opposition media and websites.  Lots of bad news…

So amid this grim picture, it was uplifting to witness several positive developments facilitated by the media during my recent visit to Bangladesh.  One of these is a multi-media initiative led by the BBC’s international charity, BBC Media Action, in conjunction with Bangladeshi health workers.  On the first day of my trip, a local NGO showed me a new manual for health workers (see picture) produced after a recommendation I made on a previous visit in 2014.  The hardcover spiral-bound handbook is full of information about maternal, newborn and child health.  But far from being full of dry text, it is illustrated with stills taken from the popular TV drama ‘Ujan Ganger Naiya’ (Swimming Against the Tide) which is followed by 32 million people on Bangladesh TV and satellite. The soap opera-style series is produced by BBC Media Action with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).  The front cover photo on the manual is taken from a dramatic scene where one of the heroines is rushed in her husband’s arms to the nearest health centre just in time to give birth to her first baby.  The messages are clear: prepare well for birth, be aware of danger signs in pregnancy, go for four ante-natal check-ups, give birth preferably in a health centre… and, most importantly, avoid teenage marriage and pregnancy.

It is heartening to see these messages being conveyed not only indirectly on TV but also directly through face-to-face trainings by NGO and government health workers, using the manual – a perfect marriage of different media.  Village-level health-workers are on the front-line when it comes to promoting maternal health and this teaching aid is helping nearly 1000 of them in their work, which reaches around 5 million households.  Bangladesh has managed to tackle its high rates of maternal mortality.  Although still at unacceptable levels, the rate was halved between 2000 and 2015, and now stands at about 176 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births: 15 years ago it was 399 deaths per 100,000. This is partly due to a huge NGO and government commitment to front-line health-workers, armed with supporting material.

The TV drama series and the handbooks are not the only vehicles for life-saving information and advice: the initiative includes an ‘Ujan Ganger Naiya’ Facebook page; extracts from the drama which are screened during health workers’ trainings; supplemental factual Question & Answer programmes and public service announcements on radio and TV; and you can even download an MP3 of the title song or make it your mobile ring-tone.

So, in a country where media stories are often negative, it is encouraging to see some good news emanating from Bangladesh.

(Mary Myers is an iMedia Associate.  She and Nicola Harford – Director at iMedia – are responsible for reviewing and providing oversight of monitoring and evaluation for BBC Media Action’s Global Grant from DFID, now in its fifth year.)