New British TV health series to target South Asians

MUMBAI: Britain's health authorities have come up with a novel way to convey health messages to non-English speaking Asians: a television drama series.

Kismet Road, a groundbreaking new drama commissioned by the National Health Service (NHS), will be telecast from next month. It is the first television series commissioned by the NHS.

It will be aired in a prime time slot from 14 March on the Community Channel, a charity-funded channel available on Sky, Cable and Freeview, giving it a potential audience of 29 million viewers.

Research carried out for Sky shows the South Asian communities are keen users of digital TV - 70 per cent feel underserved by terrestrial TV.

According to Bradford Health Action Zone head Liz Kernohan, "Rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, serious mental health problems and infant mortality rates are significantly higher within the South Asian communities in Bradford than the indigenous population. There is a 12 per cent higher risk of dying under the age of 75."

Government health messages prepared for and disseminated to the general population have not got through to the South Asians - "partly for cultural and partly for linguistic reasons. Kismet Road aims to redress this," she said.

A soap opera/health promotion hybrid, Kismet Road uses drama to address a range of major health issues, from coronary heart disease and diabetes to asthma and impotence.

It also explores issues seen as taboo within the target communities, including abortion, homosexuality, drug and alcohol dependency and forced marriage.

Some storylines concern problems specific to Muslim families.

"For example, it may not be accepted for a woman to go out by herself," Kernohan says.

"So her husband will go to the doctor on her behalf - a form of consultation by proxy that causes huge problems for general practitioners."

Kismet Road's path to the small screen has not been smooth. The major television networks shied away, while Liam Fox, the former shadow Health Secretary, claimed it was a waste of public money.

The series, developed by a steering group that included 12 Asian community focus groups, is populated by Asian actors and is scripted by Asian writers. Producer Rod Natkiel used to run BBC's Asian Programmes Unit.

Although predominantly in English, about 10 per cent of the dialogue is in Urdu or Punjabi, reflecting the conversational habits of many British Asian families.

Producer Natkiel said, "If just one Asian man watches Kismet Road and avoids a heart attack because he has gone to his GP in good time, I'll feel that we have succeeded."

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