Soap Opera Promotes Condoms, Compassion

Sex. Betrayal. A daring escape from a brothel and the tragic death of a lovely young woman. Such is the heart of good soap opera—and for 12 weeks last year, the stuff of health education, too.

“Punishment of Love,” a soap opera promoting condom use and compassion for people with HIV and AIDS, aired weekly on five national television networks from May 27 to Aug 18, to much buzz and discussion.

Half of Cambodians saw at least one episode, according to a report released last month by Population Services International, the NGO that produced the series.

Adapted from a 1999 PSI-produced radio drama of the same name, the series targeted young people, indirect sex workers and married couples—reflective of the creep of new HIV infections from high-risk groups to those populations, the report said.

The show was most popular in Phnom Penh and urban areas, the report said. Nearly all respondents to a viewer survey claimed they had “learned something.”

Months later, the series’ stars drew instant recognition.

“Keo Srey Neang!” cried sugar cane juice vendors Kum Ne, 25, and Chan Lang Kea, 33, in unison when shown a publicity shot of the lead actress’ tear-stained face.

“The way that they inserted the message on HIV and AIDS is very suitable to the Cambodian mind, the Cambodian thinking, the Cambodian feeling,” said Dr Tith Khimuy, program manager at the HIV/AIDS NGO Khana. Villagers he meets on educational trips to rural areas frequently mention the series, he said.

He said interest in the romantic plot helped viewers identify with the choices the characters faced.

“The story is a reflection of Cam­bodian culture,” said Um Sam An, 30, former president of Stu­­dent Movement for Democ­racy. “They should love only one per­son.”

Jacqueline Devine, deputy country representative for PSI, declined to provide the total budget for the series, which was fund­ed by the Department for In­ternational Development and the US Agency for International De­velopment, but said it was a “cost-effective” method of spreading safe sex information.


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