Mariama's Story

24th April 2020

In a brand-new film released for World Malaria Day (April 25), we are sharing inspiring stories from a malaria myth-busting radio show in Sierra Leone and the impact it’s having on the fight against the disease.

Tawa Fo Welbodi - which means ‘determined for health - is a weekly Krio-language radio show produced by BBC Media Action, with funding from Comic Relief and GSK, that aims to debunk myths about malaria and educate people on its symptoms and how they can protect themselves.

Right now, half the world is at risk from malaria, which is both preventable and treatable. There were more than 200 million new cases of the disease in 2018, and a child still dies of malaria every two minutes. 

Mariama, the producer of Tawa Fo Welbodi, first understood the importance of correctly diagnosing and treating malaria when her five-year-old son, Thaimu, became sick at home. Mariama, used to self-medicating, gave Thaimu medicine from her first aid box but, when he collapsed, she had to rush him to hospital where he was diagnosed with malaria. He recovered, thanks to a blood transfusion, but the experience taught Mariama a valuable lesson about the dangers of self-diagnosis, and motivated her to educate people and prevent them from making similar mistakes. 

“People in Sierra Leone are complacent about malaria, they normalise it, they just accept it and they keep going on as normal for ages, sleeping without nets, and drinking stagnant water,” she said.

Along with presenter Eastina Mariama’s aim is to produce  a radio show that busts potentially harmful myths about malaria and educates people in a clear and accessible way, that makes them want to listen.

“If you just tell people not to do things, you won’t succeed. So, what we did was think creatively about how to make programmes to change  people’s behaviour. People think malaria is boring and they don't want to hear about it. Sometimes we use fear, for example talking about someone losing a child, but we often use humour and comedians too,” she added.

“I used to self-medicate, treat myself and my kids without going to the hospital [when we were sick]. But, since we started producing the programmes, I realised that I was endangering both my life and the life of my  children. I’ve learnt a lot making the show. I feel confident that there have been a lot of changes and I think, if we continue with this strength, in five or ten years we will get to a point where there is no malaria.”

Beating malaria is a challenge and needs teamwork. Comic Relief and GSK are working together with communities in some of the most affected areas in the world, equipping them with the vital knowledge they need to prevent and treat the disease, giving children the chance to reach their full potential and communities the opportunity to thrive.

Tawa Fo Welbodi – which launched in 2018 - can now be heard on more than 50 radio stations across Sierra Leone and audience panel research has found that listeners’ knowledge of malaria, and confidence in knowing what to do if suspect they or their family has malaria, is increasing.