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Arnold School of Public Health

PASOs-produced radio dramas bring health information to Upstate Latinos

July 23, 2015

The below story was written by Liv Osby and is republished here from the Greenville News. 

After the school nurse tells Irma Reina that her daughter Roxanna hurt her ankle because she is anemic, the principal pulls her aside with some even more disturbing news.

As the nurse reached for the teenager's bag after the injury, a pregnancy test fell out.

Cue the dramatic music.

While this isn't a scene from a Spanish soap opera, Las Reinas No Somos Tontas (We Queens Are Not Foolish) uses the same style of story-telling to convey health information to the Latino community on local radio.

Produced by PASOs, a statewide nonprofit affiliated with the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health, the radionovela spots air Wednesdays from 2:30-3:30 p.m. on 103.9 FM in Greenville.

PASOs helps improve health and access to services for Latino families through community workshops, case management, and partnering with other organizations to fill the gaps, according to Paola Gutierrez, director of programs and training.

But between the language barrier, cultural differences and other obstacles, getting information to people who need it can be challenging, she said. And because transportation is a common barrier for people to participate in outreach events, the radionovelas were created.

"This is great vehicle to transfer ... information to the Latino population," she said. "There are real life situations that our communities can listen to and identify with."


Dramatic license

Developed and acted by PASOs community health workers, the spots provide important health information on topics such as proper nutrition and exercise, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, family planning and prenatal care, and parenting and early childhood development in a way that is not only culturally appropriate, but popular in the Latino community.

"In these radio dramas ... certain families are highlighted like a regular soap opera," Gutierrez said. "And each episode makes (listeners) familiar with the life experiences these characters have."

Health care is so different in other countries, she said. So new immigrants, and even second- and third-generation residents, may not know what is available here or how to navigate the system.

As a result, they wind up falling through the cracks.

For example, Gutierrez said, some people come from small villages where the sign of a healthy pregnancy is a growing belly. Prenatal care is non-existent.

So something as simple as taking folic acid while pregnant to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida isn't done because they aren't aware of it. Armed with the information, women have healthier babies.

"So we are educating them regarding the importance of going to prenatal visis and highlighting local service providers," she said. "A lot of the resources we give are preventative."

A second radio drama storyline deals with domestic violence.


Community needs

After a woman tells her friend at a barbecue that she's going to leave her abusive husband, she calls that same friend the next morning asking for help to get to the emergency room because she was been badly beaten when trying to leave.

At the conclusion of the spots, questions are asked of the audience and information is provided about potential helpful resources, such as Safe Harbor, a shelter for battered women, in the case of the dometic violence story, Gutierrez said. And then phone calls are taken, she said.

"Community-based projects like PASOs keep people out of the hospital by keeping them healthy and enabling them to live better lives and improve the overall health of the communities we serve," said Jennifer Snow, director of Accountable Communities at Greenville Health System, which helps support PASOs.

PASOs also connects people with a medical home, helps them get health insurance and gives them tools to be more empowered consumers. It has community health workers stationed at two GHS practices — The OB/GYN Center and the Center for Pediatric Medicine — to link patients with other resources as well.

Snow hopes to use the PASOs model to address health disparities in other neighborhoods as well.

While PASOS served almost 800 people in the past year, it also reached about 2,500 in the community through the radio spots, officials said. Later this year, it will present information about the radio dramas at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Chicago.

"We're here to better serve the Latino population," said Gutierrez. "Whatever the community needs, we listen and attempt to respond to it."

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