Feature Story

29 March 2010

Viet Nam Radio Drama Helps Reduce Stigma Related to HIV

HANOI, Viet Nam — As the first national radio soap opera that focused on changing the behaviour of young people in Viet Nam drew to a close, producers shared some of the 2,000 letters sent in by listeners, who testified to the impact the show had on their lives.

For instance, one woman wrote:

I got married when I was 19. Some months after the marriage, I found out my husband was a drug addict. Two years later, I gave birth. My husband died when my child was a year old. It was only then, that I realized he had died from AIDS and had infected me with HIV. Very soon after, my child drowned, and this made me go crazy. I did not want to live. However, thanks to my family and the commune Women’s Union’s care and encouragement, I started to receive antiretroviral treatment, and my life changed.

I hope Desire of Life helps other people who are suffering from either HIV or domestic violence to overcome their difficulties and live a healthy life.

Producers, actors and listeners discussed the impact of Desire of Life in a television talk show organized by the Voice of Viet Nam (VOV) and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Desire of Life has aired on VOV since April 2008 with support from UNFPA and the Population Media Center, and funding from the Danish Government.

Using drama to impart social values

The serial radio drama applied the Sabido methodology to reduce stigma about people living with HIV and to impart other positive social values. The method is based on character development and engaging plot lines that provide the audience with a range of characters – some good, some not so good. As listeners follow the characters as they evolve and change while dealing with challenges, many apply the lessons to their own lives.

“After a long and beautiful journey, this programme is about to finish,” Tran Dang Khoa, Vice Director of the programme, told talk show viewers. “We are very satisfied, because it has received great attention and support from audiences throughout the country.

“The methodology of the drama is quite new but very successful in Viet Nam,” he continued. “We have received thousands of letters and e-mails from listeners saying that they enjoyed very much listening to each episode of the soap opera and expressing their wish for the soap opera to have many more episodes.”

Through the series, listeners have followed the exploits of the main characters in four typical Vietnamese settings: a big and dynamic city; a rural village; a mountain village; and a suburb. The producers hope that in addition to entertaining the audience, the soap opera also raises listeners’ awareness about sexual and reproductive health and gender equality, and promotes positive and safe behaviours.

Countering stigma and discrimination

Desire of Life reflects the real story of my village, where certain issues still exist such as son preference and discrimination between women and men, and between girls and boys,” said Huong, a young mother from Hung Yen Province. “I have been listening to the soap opera since the first episode and find it very useful. It has helped us to live in a cheerful way and provided us with energy to overcome difficulties and challenges in life.”

Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV still persist despite the passage of a Law on HIV Prevention and Control, according to Ngan, a young woman living with HIV. She attended the talk show and also was part of the advisory team for Desire of Life.

“One of the successes of the drama is that it helped listeners to share and sympathize with people living with HIV and change their behaviour towards them. I have been HIV positive for many years and can say that despite their HIV status, people can live longer, work and contribute to the society,” said Ngan.

During the talk show, Hoang Nhuan Cam, an adviser to the programme, explained that the audience plays a very important role in the success of the soap opera. “Warm, kind and loving hearts are really needed to help people living with HIV and affected by domestic violence to overcome their challenges and to enjoy their lives.” Cam acknowledged that the initiative had made a valuable contribution to halting the HIV epidemic and to improving sexual and reproductive health of Vietnamese people.

HIV demands more attention from the nation as rates are increasing. Recent data released by the Ministry of Health indicate that every day about 100 people in Viet Nam are infected with HIV.

- Maria Larrinaga and Nguyen Thi Hong Thanh