HEALTH

‘Sesame Street’ characters Elmo, Raya join fight against Zika in Latin America

The newest individuals in the fight against Zika are furrier than the average health worker: Elmo and Raya from the popular educational children’s show, “Sesame Street.”

And their PSAs on how to prevent the spread of the disease are brought to you by the letters P, A, H and O.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organization, is teaming up with the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit that produces "Sesame Street," to educate families in the region about how to contain the spread of the Zika virus – which has been linked to a sudden rise in cases of microcephaly , a childhood birth defect in which newborns have smaller than normal skulls.

The virus is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito – also known to carry dengue and yellow fevers, chikungunya and other diseases – which thrives in small pools of stagnant water in and around people’s homes.

The first of two public service announcements to feature characters from the beloved children’s show, which is televised as “Vila Sésamo” in Brazil and “Plaza Sésamo” elsewhere in the region, features Elma and Raya demonstrating how wearing long sleeves and pants and screening windows and doors can limit the spread of the virus.

“If the mosquito doesn’t bite, goodbye Zika!,” the characters say in one of the spots, according to a joint statement issued by PAHO and the Sesame Workshop.

“‘Sesame Street’ has always been committed to developing educational programs that make a direct impact in particularly vulnerable communities,” Lewis Kofsky, Sesame Workshop vice president for Latin America, said in the statement.  “Just as we bring lessons about ABCs and 123s to keep children’s minds healthy, we also create messages that keep their bodies … healthy.”

For his part, Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO/WHO’s department of communicable diseases, said, “We are pleased to collaborate again with ‘Sesame Street’ in this important outreach.”

Espinal added, “Our most important tool to combat Zika – and at the same time, dengue and chikungunya – is control of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmit these diseases. Since these mosquitoes live in and around houses, this will take a concerted effort with intensified community engagement.”

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