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Zambian HIV Drama Wins New York Film Festival Award

A Zambian movie dealing with HIV—Road to Hope – recently won a silver medal at the recent 2007 New York Festivals International Film and Video Competition. The awards recognize the best informational, educational and industrial films in a given year. Voice of America’s Danstan Kaunda reports the film competed against over 100 rivals from Europe, Asia and Latin America.

“Road to Hope” explores the realities faced by everyday people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia. It focuses on their personal stories – bringing one of the world’s deadliest epidemics to a more intimate level.

Uttara Kumar is a deputy chief of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Lusaka. She says, “The actors are real people living with HIV. This is not fictional, they are not acting. They are actually in treatment. It is extraordinary that they were [brave] enough to come on television [to be filmed.]

Kumar says the film tries to clear-up misconceptions about the use of anti-retroviral therapies (ARTs) including their side-effects. And, the drama reminds viewers that ARTs are not a cure for HIV. It also discourages the use of traditional herbal remedies.

The film achieves its goal by presenting three stories, including one that follows the problems of an HIV-infected pregnant woman. Her husband – on learning of her status – leaves her.

The woman said, “When I got pregnant last year, I went to the clinic for the antenatal visit. I agreed to take the test, because I wanted to protect my child, and being a married woman, I felt I had no worries. Imagine the shock I had, when I was tested HIV positive. My husband said that he had nothing to do with it and then he left me."

Kumar says the people in the film are taking ART’s and are doing well. She says, “The people in the video do not look like either sick or dying. They do not look like they are miserable or on their death beds. They are actually fine. And they talk about their stories, why they took the treatment and how they are fine now. So those are things that people can actually relate to.”

Kumar says documentaries and films are the best way to teach people about the disease. She says, “We strongly believe that entertainment education is the better way to get information to people because a lot of the people in Zambia do not read very well and literacy levels are low, so printed materials do not go very far.”

At the launch of the film, U.S Ambassador to Zambia, Carmen Martinez, said giving people who live with HIV/AIDS an opportunity to tell their stories is the best way to increase awareness.

The documentary was produced by the Health Communication Partnership/Zambia, the Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Council. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and USAID provided financial support. The Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation aired “Road to Hope” on World AIDS Day.