Opera hits right note with safe sex plot

08:43, December 01, 2010      

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From pamphlets to workshops, health authorities across China are trying every conceivable way to spread the word about AIDS and HIV prevention, particularly to rural residents.

One of the most successful in the northwest has been a tear-jerking love story performed in qinqiang opera, a style popular in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces and the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

Lily in Blossom is about the romance between a young woman called Lily, who discovers she is HIV positive on her wedding day and is ostracized by everyone in her village, except her husband, Zhan Peng.

In searching for the cause of the infection, the couple learns key facts about the disease and how it is transmitted.

"The play has been well received among rural audiences and has become one of the most effective tools for us to educate people on AIDS prevention and control," said Liu Weizhong, director of Gansu's health bureau, which funded and developed the play with a qinqiang troupe from Dingxi, a mountain-locked city in Gansu.

Since May 2008, the play has been staged more than 160 times to a total audience of almost 2 million, including TV viewers, he said. Tickets are free, although for each performance the troupe receives 25,000 yuan ($3,750) from the health authority.

The play, which has become a "real talking point", said Liu, "has substantially helped raise awareness of AIDS among the people".

For previous intervention projects in rural areas, authorities printed guides on AIDS prevention and government policies, such as free medication, as well as gave away promotional items like wall calendars.

However, Wang Xiaoming, deputy director of Gansu's health bureau, said he found many of the calendars were posted up in pigsties.

"As the stigma surrounding AIDS is still widespread among the Chinese public, particularly in rural areas, they hardly want that kind of thing displayed in their sitting room," said Wang.

A woman surnamed Wu from a village in Dingxi said she receives the promotional materials every year but rarely reads them as "the disease only strikes those with low moral standards and wanton lifestyles".

"Only after seeing the play did I learn that HIV can't be transmitted through contact like shaking hands, or that people who are already suffering shouldn't be stigmatized," she said.

In recent years, the AIDS epidemic has been rising quickly among China's colossal army of migrant workers, who leave behind rural hometowns and families for better employment in the cities, said Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control and Prevention.

Of the 48,000 new HIV cases detected in 2009, more than 21 percent were migrant workers, up 4 percent on 2008, according to official statistics.

"The rural population, including migrant workers, should be a focus for AIDS intervention efforts," said Wu.

Roughly 740,000 people are suffering with HIV nationwide, including 130,000 cases of full-blown AIDS, show official statistics.

Source: China Daily


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