Elmo joins campaign against Zika virus

Posted at 6:13 PM, Mar 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-25 20:13:24-04
by Adrian Rabin

Special to CNN

(CNN) — Two members of the “Sesame Street” Muppets are the newest celebrities to join the campaign against the Zika virus.

Elmo and his aqua green-skinned friend Raya will now be spreading the word to children and families about the mosquito-borne disease plaguing the Caribbean and Central and South America, and linked to serious birth defects.

“Sesame Street” is working with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organization, on the campaign.

PAHO posted two 30-second public service announcements on social media. The videos are in Spanish and Portuguese (with English coming soon) and will be aired on “Plaza Sésamo,” the Latin American version of “Sesame Street,” within the week.

They will run on Latin American and Caribbean television stations, and the organization says it hopes to air the videos in the United States as well.

The clips feature beloved Elmo and Raya, who was created in 2014 as part of Sesame Workshop’s “Cleaner, Healthier, Happier” campaign.

“Elmo and Raya’s first message aims to stop mosquito-borne illnesses before they start,” PAHO said in a statement.

In the first video, the characters teach children to not let standing water accumulate and to cover bowls and trash containers in an effort to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.

In the second video, Elmo and Raya teach children the key aspects of prevention: avoiding mosquito bites by using nets and repellent, wearing long sleeves and keeping doors and windows screened.

WHO spokesman Daniel Epstein said it is critical to reach people with information about Zika now so they can immediately protect themselves from the virus and other mosquito-borne infections. In making these videos, he said, PAHO knew it is especially important to reach children.

“Children often help educate their parents, especially in areas of poverty,” Epstein said.

This isn’t the first time “Sesame Street” has addressed serious public health issues. The character Julia was designed to help spread awareness about autism. Kami, a female character on the Nigerian “Sesame Square,” is HIV-positive.

PAHO and “Sesame Street” have previously worked together to promote immunization for children. In one video, Elmo appeared with the U.S. surgeon general to campaign for vaccinations.

“Since partnering with Sesame Workshop (the non-profit behind “Sesame Street”) in 2003, messages about vaccination week have reached over 147 million children and adults,” Epstein said.

“Plaza Sésamo” characters have a broad appeal throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and have been featured in PAHO public service announcements, posters, flyers and stickers in the health organization’s four official languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.

Lewis Kofsky, Sesame Workshop’s vice president for Latin America, said he hopes that the Zika campaign will reach every child in the region.

“The program is really to raise awareness for Zika virus and to see if there’s something we can do to eradicate it with human cooperation,” Kofsky said.

Or as Elmo says, “If the mosquito doesn’t bite, goodbye Zika!”