Long-running Afghan radio drama helps fight polio

Thursday 19 July, 2018
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A creation of former BBC journalist John Butt, the long-running radio drama ‘Da Pulay Poray’ (Across the Border), which broadcasts in Pashto language to millions in the Afghan south and east, is helping fight polio in the country.

Afghanistan, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, is one of the last countries in the world where polio is still endemic.

Conspiracy theories ranging from polio drops being a plot to sterilise Muslims to the bizarre theory that they are George Bush’s urine, have hampered efforts to eradicate the disease.

Extremists have also preached against the vaccination programme and health workers have been attacked in the region.

The long-running radio soap is set in the remote border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan and has a huge following with plot lines featuring a mixture of lively drama from everyday stories of country folk and public information messages.

“When people say what's your biggest achievement, I say, well it's making good storylines about polio because it’s not really the most captivating and interesting subject at first sight,” Butt, 67, told the Telegraph.

Having lived in the region for almost 50 years, Butt studied for 13 years at the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband, the most influential Muslim seminary in south Asia, speaks fluent Pashto and wears local dress.

He worked for the BBC's Pashto service in the 1990s and created another popular soap called ‘New Home, New Life’, he then set up his own production house, Pact Radio, in Jalalabad in 2004.

With a passion for Pashto radio and a mission to find “traditional solutions for modern problems” his soaps have earlier tackled women's rights, militancy, the rule of law and health.

“You can actually bring up issues in a soap opera which you can't bring up in day to day journalism,”
he said.

“Pashtuns will just believe anything you tell them and that's the whole problem actually.

“Whatever the facts say, they don't believe facts, they believe hearsay, they believe rumour and that's what the problem with polio is. If someone says its Bush's urine, okay it's Bush's urine. It's a very infuriating country but then at the same time you feel that you are doing some good,” he said.

Country Afghanistan
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