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Development Media International

Development Media International (DMI) runs television and radio campaigns in developing regions to raise awareness for important health and wellness issues. The focus areas of DMI’s educational media for vulnerable communities are nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, malaria prevention, HIV/AIDS, family planning, and child marriage. DMI works with local broadcasters to create informative and engaging programming, reaching wide communities via large-scale media campaigns of 500 to 8,000 broadcasts.

The organization has completed a major five-year campaign in Burkina Faso—the largest ever randomized controlled trial measuring media impact on health and mortality. Based on the midline results, this is the first RCT to demonstrate that a large-scale media campaign can improve health behaviours in a developing country. DMI has now launched a second RCT on family planning in Burkina Faso.

DMI has run campaigns in over 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe and is currently running large-scale programs in Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, and Chad.

The Problem

Individuals and communities in developing nations often lack information vital to their health and wellbeing. Worldwide, 5.6 million children under the age of five die each year. Over half of these deaths could be prevented, and maternal mortality slashed, if families were to make use of simple, inexpensive, or free interventions such as handwashing, giving birth in health facilities, breastfeeding, and making use of readily-available treatments for pneumonia and diarrhea. Unfortunately, lack of information combined with cultural reluctance to consult medical professionals means that preventable deaths continue, particularly in the developing world.

The Solution

Media health campaigns facilitate information exchange and cultural awareness. Television and particularly radio can be used to reach large numbers of people in the developing world, raising awareness about how to identify and protect against potentially dangerous illnesses, and what to do if they occur. At the same time, broadcasts can help break down cultural barriers that prevent people from seeking treatment, persuading vulnerable populations to make use of health workers and available resources.

How DMI is different from other charities

Most poverty aid programs focus on the “supply side” of interventions, e.g. training doctors and nurses, supplying equipment and medications, and building healthcare facilities. Unlike traditional aid organizations, DMI works on the critical but much-neglected “demand side,” disseminating basic yet crucial information and encouraging communities and families to make use of the health care services already available to them.

More than 15,000 children die each day in the developing world, due to conditions associated with extreme poverty. Effective media outreach campaigns have been proven to save one in five of these lives--that’s roughly 3,000 children saved each day through effective media interventions. Development Media’s average DALY (Disability Adjusted Life Year) averted is estimated to be US$20*--making educational media outreach one of the most cost-effective anti-poverty interventions.

Why DMI is effective

Proven track record

Just a few examples of DMI’s successful campaigns are use of iron supplements among pregnant women increasing from 10 to 44 percent (in Cambodia), trachoma incidence decreasing from 72 to 52 percent (in Ethiopia), and breastfeeding rates among new mothers increasing from 77 to 91 percent (in Orissa, India).

Rigorous evaluations

DMI is committed to randomized controlled trials (RCTs), using a model developed in conjunction with the London School of Hygiene, and a rigorous RCT funded by the Wellcome Trust and Planet Wheeler Foundation.

Large national audiences

Media campaigns have a huge reach because radio is extremely popular in sub-Saharan Africa; for example, 74 percent of Ugandans tune in at least once a week.


Economies of scale mean that DMI can educate communities about multiple health issues in a single campaign for little extra cost. DMI’s campaigns are estimated to cost only US$20 per disability-adjusted life year (DALY), or US$600 per life saved*, making it one of the cheapest health interventions available.

Joined-up approach

Often, DMI does not pay airtime fees, as is the arrangement with their partner radio stations in Burkina Faso; instead, they provide on-the-job training and produce the live programs together, thereby reducing costs and increasing job skills.

Carefully tailored messages

DMI researches local beliefs, behaviors, languages and limiting factors in order to create customized messages with the greatest possible impact on local communities.

Designed for scale

Mathematical models created with the London School of Hygiene predict that just one behavior change radio campaign can save 14,400 under-five lives every year, and that by running campaigns in 10 countries over several years, DMI can save a million lives.

High Impact

DMI’s accountability and sustainability

DMI is a recommended charity of The Life You Can Save, and has been named a standout by GiveWell. Giving What We Can has listed DMI as a Standout Charity.

GiveWell praises DMI for its transparency, including sharing all requested documents and publishing many reports and results on its website, including the midline results and preliminary endline results from its five-year Burkina Faso campaign.

DMI partners with leading developing world health bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Every Woman Every Child, and The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. DMI has begun to recruit creative staff in-country; members of the public submit scripts, and the best applicants are selected and trained.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a media campaign look like?

For the Burkina Faso campaign, a local team of DMI creative staff write short skits about important health issues, which are translated into local languages and performed by teams of local actors. These are then broadcast on 28 radio stations as part of a two-hour radio show involving music, news, and discussion. Follow-up call-in talk shows about the health issues raised stimulate lively discussions. Minute-long radio advertisements are also broadcast in six local languages, ten times a day.

You can watch examples of radio spots being acted and recorded, as well as subsequent call-in discussions, on the DMI website. Examples include a skit about a man illicitly using his neighbor’s latrine, and a classroom discussion about the most deadly animal-- the malaria-bearing mosquito.

What other campaigns has DMI run?

Some previous successful campaigns that have been managed by DMI or DMI staff have targeted:

  • Leprosy (including the world's three largest campaigns, in Brazil, India and Nepal)
  • HIV/AIDS (including two of the world's largest campaigns, in India and Cambodia)
  • Reproductive health (in Vietnam)
  • Trachoma (the world's five largest campaigns, with a focus on Ethiopia)
  • Tuberculosis (in Brazil)
  • Maternal and child health (in Burkina Faso, Kenya, India and Cambodia)

Do people still use radios very much? Do enough people own televisions?

Radio is the main source of information in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Of households that own a radio, 59 percent listen to radio programming at least once a week, and television is increasingly popular in cities and towns.

Why does The Life You Can Save recommend Development Media International?

We recommend DMI because they have been named a Standout Charity by GiveWell, a highly respected charity evaluator.

More Information

Image credits: Development Media International
*These are DMI's latest 2016 internal estimates, higher than previous public estimates, hence the inclusion before their official release of the numbers.

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