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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 12:25 GMT
Burma gets educational soap
Burma's first soap opera goes on air on Friday, aimed at highlighting health issues in a country where diseases such as HIV/Aids carry a social taboo.

Thabyegone Ywa, or Eugenia Tree Village, is produced by BBC World Service Trust, an independent charity which aims to reduce poverty through the media.

Myint Soe
The character Myint Soe, a flower seller, has HIV
The programme, set in a small village in Bago province, aims to break stigmas and raise awareness about medical choices open to Burma's poor.

One storyline shows the reactions of the villagers to a 29-year-old local flower seller, Myint Soe, and his family, after he becomes HIV-positive.

Other characters include a farmer, spirit medium, monks, doctors and a traditional birth attendant.

Tim Williams, project director of the BBC World Service Trust, which is funded by the UK's Department for International Development, said the programmes would provide a chance to raise debate about difficult and controversial subjects.

For example, he said, the fact that women in Burma found to be carrying a condom face arrest for being prostitutes made a strong storyline, as well as making people think.

"Given the international sanctions and internal economic collapse, medical care cannot effectively support the increasing number of people suffering from poverty related diseases," Mr Williams said.

"There is anecdotal evidence that if somebody contracts either TB or HIV... you will find people are put in outbuildings at the end of the garden and only parents will go and feed them," he said.

"We want to raise awareness that they can still play a role in society," he said.

As for treatment, "we will be looking at what is practical. We won't necessarily be pooh-poohing all the home-based medicines that people use because some are useful."

Mr Williams said the country's military junta had not been hostile towards the programme.

"This is not a political programme; it's about something the Burmese Government itself is trying to tackle," he said.

A 15-minute episode of Thabyegone Ywa will be broadcast twice a week, and both episodes will be repeated in an omnibus edition on Sundays. The programme should reach the estimated 10-16 million people who listen to the BBC Burmese Service every week.

The World Service Trust has also produced educational soap operas in Russia, Afghanistan, Albania and Romania.

Thabyegone Ywa will be broadcast from London on Fridays and Saturdays at 2040 Burmese Time; 14.10 GMT and in an Omnibus version on Sundays at 2020 Burmese Time, 13.50 GMT, on the shortwave frequencies of the BBC Burmese Service: 7135 (41m); 9540 (31m); 11685 (25m); 15295 (19m).


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