Promoting Public Health Through Music In Mali

 by Uttara Dukkipati, Megan Schliep, Ariel Moser and  Kathleen Fischer
(full project report  coming soon at papers)

In 2014, the Northwestern Access to Health Project (NAHP) initiated two health interventions in Douentza, a town in the Mopti region of Mali. Mali has a very low standard of welfare and faces numerous health challenges – ranking 176 out of 187 countries and territories on the 2014 United Nations Human Development Index. NAHP’s interventions were designed to empower local residents and combat common health issues.

One of the two interventions involved the production of an educational music album to increase local residents’ knowledge of common diseases and available treatment options. This album—which was performed in a popular local dialect—has been played regularly over the past year on Radio Daande Duwansa, the local station in Douentza. When NAHP commissioned the album from Troupe de Haire, a group of local musicians, it asked the musicians to identify critical health and development issues in Douentza. With NAHP’s approval and financial support, the musicians drafted lyrics and produced six songs on the following topics: malaria, AIDS, FGM, girls’ education, breastfeeding and hygiene and sanitation.

NAHP had two primary reasons for using the album as an educational instrument in Douentza. First, music plays a central role in Malian culture, and the songs were performed a popular local style and dialect. Second, Mali has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, and spoken communication is critically important. Radio provides an effective means of spreading information across Mali. In particular, Radio Daande Duwansa is a popular local station in Douentza – in its area of broadcast, Radio Daande is listened to more than any other single station. This ensured the album had regular radio play and made it likely that local residents in Douentza would hear its educational messages.

Our group’s project proposed that NAHP survey local residents to determine the album’s impact on the local community. NAHP’s use of the album to teach local residents about health and development through music is consistent with approaches suggested in public health literature, notably, the Entertainment-Education communication strategy. The album’s teaching method also builds on principles derived from the Health Belief Model, a health theory that involves an individual’s perceptions related to health behaviors.
IMG_0333Our survey seeks to learn whether the album succeeded in changing perceptions of local residents with respect to the album’s six health and development topics. Given the album’s structure and content, it is likely the album had an impact on local residents’ knowledge and may serve as a change agent for local residents in terms of making positive changes in their health behaviors. For example, with respect to AIDS, the album’s lyrics discuss the disease’s incurability, methods of transmission, instructions regarding prevention, and treatment resources, including free antiretroviral medication at local pharmacies. Our survey is designed to assess local residents’ exposure to the album and their current beliefs regarding the barriers and benefits associated with changing health behaviors.

NAHP recognizes that assessment of the effectiveness of the album is challenging because there are limited opportunities for objective assessment of changes in practice or for listeners to demonstrate their knowledge of the relevant material. Yet with careful planning and survey design, we expect that a successful qualitative survey effort in Douentza will inform future research, including potential quantitative analysis of the album’s impact on residents’ knowledge of health and education. These impact assessments will allow NAHP to understand the implications of the album intervention and assess the potential for horizontal or vertical expansion of these efforts in Mali and beyond.

Cameron, Kenzie. 2014. HBM Lecture: Health, Behavior and Society April 1, 2014. Northwestern University, Chicago, IL USA.

Near East Foundation. Where We Work: Mali Overview. (accessed March 7, 2015).

Singhal, Arvind and Rogers, Everett M. 2003. Combating AIDS: Communication Strategies in Action. Sage Publications Inc.: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Sood, Suruchi, Shefner-Rogers, Corrine, and Skinner, Joanna. 2014. Health communication campaigns in developing countries. Journal of Creative Communications 9(1): 67–84.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Education Counts: Towards the Millennium Development Goals. 2011. (accessed March 27, 2015).

United Nations. Millennium Development Goals and Beyond. 2013. (accessed March 27, 2015).

About NPHR Blog (339 Articles)
The is the blog of the Northwestern Public Health Review journal. The blog and journal are both student run and contain research articles, opinions, interviews and other content pertaining to public health.

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