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Sesame Street Welcomes HIV-Positive Muppet

TAKALINI SESAME, the South African version of the popular children's series SESAME STREET, will be introducing an HIV-positive role model into the Muppet cast. The ASSOCIATED PRESS has reported that, at the urging of the South African government, representatives of the Sesame Workshop have decided an HIV-positive Muppet character will join the series in September 2002. "We want to build hope and address the issues of stereotypes against HIV," said Yvonne Kgame of the South African Broadcasting Corp., which airs the program. No word on the new Muppet's name, but it will be female and an orphan, according to Robert Knezevic, head of the company's international division. In one script being developed, the other Muppets rally around the character when she is shunned by children who don't want to play with her because she is HIV-positive. Parents will have the option to request educational materials that will teach them how to broach the subject of AIDS and other delicate issues with their children. "One of the things about the Muppets is they are so non-threatening to children that we can communicate what may seem to be controversial messages and start a dialogue," Knezevic told the ASSOCIATED PRESS. Many other countries, including Russia, Egypt, Mexico and Spain have shows modeled on the American version of SESAME STREET. There are no plans at this time to incorporate an HIV-positive character into other versions of the show. Joel Schneider, vice president and senior adviser to the Sesame Street Workshop, announced the new character this week at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain. "We want to show that here is an HIV-positive member of our community who you can touch and interact with." Schneider told REUTERS. South Africa has the highest HIV-positive population of any country in the world. Approximately 4.7 million South Africans (1 in 9) are infected with the virus.

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