South African ‘Sesame Street’ Introduces HIV-Positive Muppet
The South African version of the children's television series "Sesame Street" yesterday introduced its new HIV-positive Muppet character, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. The 5-year-old HIV-positive, orphaned Muppet, named Kami -- which means "acceptance" in the Tswana language -- was created and introduced to help destigmatize HIV and "create a culture of acceptance" in South Africa, where one in nine adults are estimated to be HIV-positive. According to the AP/Chronicle, the character will also teach viewers about dealing with illness and loss (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/17). South Africa's Education Minister Kader Asmal said, "For us it is our responsibility as a nation, as a government, and more specifically as partners with the education sector, to respond to the needs of many of our children who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS" (South African Press Association, 9/17). Asmal added, "Education is the only socially acceptable vaccine available to our people and represents our only hope to save our nation. We can't continue to have HIV-positive children isolated, demonized, victimized. We want to make all of our children feel comfortable." Yvonne Kgame, general manager for education at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, said that Kami would later in the show explain that she was born with HIV and has lived with a foster parent since the death of her parents (Boyle, Reuters, 9/17). According to BBC News, Kami will also show viewers that HIV-positive children can live healthy, "normal" lives (Leithead, BBC News, 9/17). On Kami's first episode, she will be "nervou[s]" about being accepted by the other Muppets but will be "enthusiastically" welcomed by them, according to the show's creators (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/17). Kami will first appear at the start of the show's second season, which begins Sept. 30 (AP/Canadian Press, 9/17).
No Plans for HIV-Positive Muppet on U.S. Show
Karen Gruenberg, vice president for content of the U.S.-based Sesame Workshop, told Reuters that there are currently no plans to introduce Kami to U.S. audiences. Gruenberg said, "I am not saying there is no need, but in terms of addressing the community of child care providers and the Department of Education we've been dealing with other issues there" (Reuters, 9/17). PBS President Pat Mitchell in July told the Television Critics Association that she has not "ruled out" an HIV-positive Muppet for the U.S. version of Sesame Street. Although Mitchell had previously said in response to criticism by some members of Congress that no HIV-positive Muppet was planned for the U.S. version of the show, she added that the show would be "as responsive as it has been to other topics" if HIV/AIDS became "a more serious problem" for U.S. children (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/30).