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Nepal radio programme breaks sexual taboos and provides advice on HIV/AIDS

© UNICEF Nepal/2007
Nearly 6 million young Nepalese tune in to the youth-based radio programme ‘Saathi Sanga Manka Kura’ weekly for guidance on many topics, including HIV/AIDS prevention.

By Robin Giri

KATHMANDU, Nepal, 7 January 2008 – In a country known for its traditional customs and taboos, an immensely popular, youth-based radio programme’s messages on safe sex and AIDS prevention are providing life-saving advice ad information.

Nearly 6 million young Nepalese tune in every week to ‘Saathi Sanga Manka Kura’, an hour-long programme of songs, drama and youthful banter, with a contemporary and youth-friendly approach to serious issues such as HIV/AIDS and sexual health. The title of the UNICEF-supported show (which is also known as SSMK) means ‘Chatting with My Best Friend’.

In November 2007, SSMK was honoured with the Global Junior Challenge Award by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the Presidential Palace in Rome. The programme was selected for the award from among some 600 projects in 80 countries – and also won a cash prize of €25,000 – for its innovative use of communication technology to educate and train young people.

Audience members seek advice

“Many teenagers and young Nepalese do not have access to information about HIV/AIDS and sexual health, and are shy to talk about it openly. This is where SSMK tries to provide guidance,” said a producer and host of the weekly programme, Sangita Budhathoki.

Initiated in 2001 by UNICEF and produced by a team of young professionals from Equal Access Nepal, a local non-governmental organization, the show is targeted at teenagers and young adults.

© UNICEF Nepal/2007
Nepal’s ‘Saathi Sanga Manka Kura’ team responds to more than 1,500 letters every month from listeners all over the country.

A highlight of the radio programme is segment featuring letters sent by audience members seeking advice, which are addressed on the air. The show receives about 1,500 letters per month from listeners in some of the country’s most remote regions – some of whom have to walk for hours just to get to a post office.

One reason for the loyalty of the audience is that SSMK responds to every letter. The programme also sends relevant life-skills booklets and materials to some listeners.

Addressing difficult issues

Regular themes featured on the show include the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV.

“Most young Nepalese are unable to talk to their parents or elders about sex,” said the Country Director for Equal Access Nepal, Nirmal Rijal. “SSMK offers advice on HIV/AIDS prevention and sensitizes people about discrimination.”

Although the HIV prevalence rate in Nepal is just 0.5 per cent in a population of 27 million, the virus could be spread by conditions such as the rising number of intravenous drug users, people displaced by conflict and young villagers migrating for work and returning with the virus.

“Our programmes on HIV and AIDS are designed with several audiences in mind,” said Ms. Budhathoki of SSMK. “These include young people in general, as well as those in vulnerable situations – like drug users, sex workers and migrant workers. Our programmes focus on women, including wives of migrants, truck drivers and soldiers.”

The popularity and impact of the radio show are reflected in the over 1,000 listeners’ clubs that have been formed in 69 of the country’s 75 districts. The clubs conduct activities that include further sensitization of young people, men and women on HIV and AIDS.



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