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ANGOLA: HIV-positive couple live happily ever after

Actors from the radio soap opera "Camatondo" in a recording session
Luanda, 30 November 2009 (PlusNews) - The story of Epalanga, a poor farm boy, and his love for Belita, the daughter of a prosperous village merchant, captured the hearts of Angolans when the national broadcaster started airing the soap opera, "Camatondo", in 2004.

The aim of the series - named after a fictitious village in the central Angolan province of Bié - was to reach people in rural areas with information on health and other topics, but it has become popular across socio-economic groups in rural and urban areas.

"I've heard the radio soap opera being talked about by journalists, doctors, farmers and housewives, and all of them follow the lives of the characters as if they were real people. It's a successful formula," said Niamh Hanafin, a media development consultant in Luanda, the capital.

Epalanga's many setbacks evoked so much compassion that some listeners even sent money to the radio station to help him, but the love between Epalanga and Belita was so strong that it eventually overcame all barriers and they were married.

Several years later, when Belita was unable to have children, Epalanga followed the advice of friends and became involved with another woman. To the dismay of listeners, the couple became infected with HIV.

Inês Filipa José, the writer and executive producer of Camatondo, uses the soap opera's success to spur debate about current events: in 2008 the national elections were discussed in the make-believe village, as was the swine flu outbreak.

HIV first appeared in the plot when the truck driver, Mário, discovered that his ex-girlfriend had died of an AIDS-related illness. After weeks of agonising he went for an HIV test, but one of his friends found out and soon everyone in the community knew.

"Everyone began avoiding Mário, thinking he had AIDS," Filipa José told IRIN/PlusNews. "This was commented upon quite a bit, because people soon began to react: 'Heck, he's not even HIV positive and people are already talking'. It served as a lesson for him and for the people themselves."

Belita discovered her HIV-positive status after finally falling pregnant and taking an HIV test as a part of standard antenatal procedures. Her husband confessed his affair and, after a brief separation, Belita forgave him. The couple then left their isolated village for the provincial capital to begin antiretroviral treatment and prevent their baby from becoming infected.

"Even the actors asked me not to let them die," laughed Filipa José, who used the HIV infection of the leading characters to show that "all you have to do is let your guard down once; we're all at risk of catching HIV." He was also keen to emphasise that a greater availability of treatment in Angola means the virus is no longer a death sentence.

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Filipa José revealed that Belita and Epalanga will soon return to Camatondo and the series, and more happy endings are in store. "They did everything right; she had twins in the hospital and is following medical advice to avoid transmission."

The plot will then delve into the discrimination experienced by HIV-positive individuals and their children. "Camatondo" is broadcast on Canal A on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 a.m. and then rebroadcast on provincial radio stations.


Theme (s): Arts/Culture - PlusNews, Care/Treatment - PlusNews, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Media - PlusNews, Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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