A major cause of spread of HIV in Nepal is internal and cross border migration to big cities in India.
There are nearly three million Nepalese working abroad in countries like India, Malaysia and the Middle East.
While away from their families the men engage in unprotected sex and often contract HIV. Nearly 50 percent of people living with HIV in Nepal are migrant labors.
These men then return home and infect their wives.
To stop this infection chain a unique radio program called ‘Home and Abroad’ is connecting migrant men with their wives and families – who are communicating them about safe sex and HIV/AIDS.
Jaya Luintel visits the targeted population of the radio program in Achham and Banke, districts of west Nepal.
“The children and the cattle are doing fine. The rice harvest was one hundred and fifty kilograms. I have heard about HIV, be careful about it to save our lives.”
This audio letter is of Sun Kesha Wod to her husband working in Mumbai India.
He will hear it through the radio program Desh Pardesh or Home and Abroad.
“People can directly talk to their spouses or near and dear ones through the program.”
Nirmal Rijal is the Country Director of Equal Access Nepal, the group that produces the radio show.
“There is nothing more powerful than hearing from a loved one when you away from home. You hear the voice of your near and dear one with certain messages I think that is very powerful and it goes a long way in preventing risk behaviors among Nepali migrants in Mumbai.”
Every week the women’s audio letters are recorded by community reporters in the remote western region. They are then compiled and broadcast international from Kathmandu.
The men abroad are also able to record their voices and send messages home to their wives in Nepal through the radio program.
“Reach to both the source and the destination communities and this was mainly through the use of satellite technology where the Nepali language radio program could reach the Nepali communities in Mumbai directly at the same time that the program was reaching their families and spouses back home.”
It’s Sunday afternoon, around 20 women in the Pipari village in the Banke district are gather around a radio.
They are eagerly waiting for their favorite program to start.
When two presenters talk about using condom they cover their mouths with their hands and giggle.
When one of the popular female characters in the radio play cries the women’s faces drop. At the end of the show they discuss the issues raised in the program.
Today they heard about sexually transmitted infections or STIs and learnt that if they seek medical help quickly they can be treated.
Because of discussions like this 30 years old Sita realized that she was carrying a Sexually Transmitted disease.
“I had itching and thought it must of some kind of allergy but when I listened to this radio Program I now know the symptoms of sexually transmitted Infections. I went to the clinic for testing. People at clinic ask me to bring my husband too for the checkup and we went together.”
Satish Raj Pandey, Deputy Director of Family Health International Nepal – which provides funding for the program-, says there are many stories like Sita’s.
“We have seen that a number of these radio listeners group have actually walked to a clinic to get tested for both HIV as well as sexually transmit infections and in some of the districts that I have visited what I have seen is that when their husbands come home for holiday or after they’ve finished working in India, they have also encouraged their spouses to get themselves tested and at times they have actually used means to even trick the husbands into it. They somehow avoid having Sex with the husband for the first week or so by which time they would have encouraged their husband to go and have an HIV test. I think this program is having an impact.”
It’s had an impact on Nain Sara Budha.
It’s from the program that she learnt this song that she sings everyday while working in the fields.
Brothers who are in India come home with the money not AIDS she sings.
“My sisters in this village got infected with HIV and other diseases. So that I thought of joining this radio listening group and I made up this song to educate them.”
In a country where the efforts to combat HIV/AIDS are often ineffective radio programs like Home and Abroad have helped both the male labor migrant and their wives to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.