Things That Matter

There’s A New Character On Plaza Sesamo And She Happens To Be HIV-Positive

Sesame Street has long been known for its inclusive agenda, not only in its United States iteration but also in the many versions of the show worldwide. The show was originally released in the 1969-1970 season in the United States, and uses puppets, live action actors and celebrities to convey educational and inclusive messages through songs, dance, laughter, some mild cheekiness and a lot of love. Characters such as Cookie Monster and Elmo have inspired generations of little children and their parents to be kinder, more resilient and overall awesome.

Sesame street just turned 50 and its cultural saliency cannot be underestimated. Among its many celebrity guests we have seen Muhammad Ali, Burt Lancaster, David Beckham, Beyoncé, BB King, Robin Williams, David Bowie, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, among many others. 

So it came as no surprise when the South African version of the program announced the launch of their new character, a girl named Kami (we just love her name yo!). 

Kami loves to dance, dress with cool streetwear and, by the way, she is HIV-positive.

Credit: @LoveTakalani / Twitter

The show is called Takalani Sesame in South Africa and its producers describe it as a show: “Promoting literacy, numeracy and basic life skills. A distinctly South African television, radio and community outreach program.”

This type of advocacy is key in a country like South Africa, where Apartheid is a not-so-distant memory and racial conflict is sadly still an important challenge for social cohesion. HIV levels in the country are also high, and some children are born with the virus as there is perinatal transmission from mother to child which is not always prevented due to limited access to the proper health services. 

Kami is five-years-old and lives a happy and giving existence.

Credit: @LoveTakalani / Twitter

The HIV virus is part of Kami’s family life and the show tried to educate young audiences on the facts and myths about HIV-positive people. Her name is derived from the Setwani word kamogelo, which means acceptance. She is a healthy carrier of the virus but knows well how it can affect lives, as her mom died from it. Her mission in life is to inform others about what an HIV-positive status means, but also how to be accepting towards others, particularly if they are different. 

Kami was revealed to the world in 2002, but her message is more relevant today than ever before.

Credit: Takalani Sesame / YouTube

Kami is a real celebrity and has been named a “champion for children worldwide” by UNICEF. the UN agency in charge of promoting children’s wellbeing. It is amazing to see how directly they deal with the issue, without sugarcoating reality, while at the same time keeping the show child friendly. For example, in this episode Kami is sad because other kids don’t want to play with her, so her friends clearly explain that touching an HIV-positive person would get you sick. It is heartwarming and poignant at the same time. 

Sesame Street uses puppets to teach kids about harsh realities worldwide.

Kami is not the only Sesame Street character that has taught kids about concepts that are hard to grasp because they belong to the realm of death, war and disease. As Hank Stuever reminded us in a 2019 article in The Washington Post, producers have dealt with social issues for years, which is one of the reasons why the show is so endearing.

He writes: “‘Sesame’ has helped its viewers cope with divorce, the incarceration of a parent and the deployment of family members in the military. Julia, a Muppet with autism, made her 2017 debut on the TV show to wide acclaim and gratitude from parents. The Workshop reaches children affected by war or hurricanes and other disasters. In Afghanistan, it showed that girls can and should go to school”. The show is good in measuring the cultural temperature of the times and dealing with issues that affect kids and kids care about. 

Besides Julia, a character with autism, the show made an important inclusion in the United States, as reported by Vancouver Province: “Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind the show, has welcomed Karli, a Muppet in foster care, as well as her “for-now” parents, Dalia and Clem. All three Muppets appear in videos posted online as part of an initiative to provide free resources to caregivers navigating difficult issues, such as family homelessness, foster care and trauma.”

This is what children’s programming should be all about: issues that are complex to understand and explain, and finding ways to make things approachable for the little ones. Last year the show introduced the first muppet to be experiencing homelessness, a growing problem among struggling families in the United States and elsewhere. 

Mexico Admits That Hundreds Of HIV-Positive Mexicans Were Being Treated With Obsolete And Ineffective Medications

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Mexico Admits That Hundreds Of HIV-Positive Mexicans Were Being Treated With Obsolete And Ineffective Medications

Gobierno de Mexico

For a long time, it was considered that Mexico had averted the worst of the HIV/AIDS crisis that has plagued much of the Americas. For a country of its size and population, Mexico historically has had a very low incidence rate of HIV infection – even among populations considered at a high-risk.

Mexico is also a nation that has a robust public healthcare system that provides medical care to its citizens free-of-charge or at very low prices, including HIV medications.

Many looked to Mexico as a role model for developing countries confronting the worldwide HIV epidemic. However, after recent reports about obsolete medications being given to HIV and AIDS patients many are beginning to question that way of thinking.

Mexico’s Health ministry revealed that Mexico had been buying outdated medications from suppliers that no longer worked.

Credit: Gobierno de Mexico

Hugo López-Gatell, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, revealed this morning that some drug providers were selling outdated and obsolete HIV drugs to the federal government. Many of the drug being used by the government to treat HIV-positive patients were from the 1980s and have been proven ineffective around the world.

At a press conference, he explained that in late 2019, authorities realized that drug companies were intentionally manipulating the public bidding process in a scheme to sell outdated drugs to the public health ministry.

“The combination of medicines tells us about the enormous lack of proper HIV treatment because they [the HIV medications] are not adequate. In many cases we found the use of old medicines, we found the use of the first HIV drug that was invented or discovered at the beginning of the 80s. It is a drug that is already obsolete worldwide and in Mexico was still being used,” he said.

According to the government, however, it was the fault of the drug companies that were gaming a public health system.

Credit: Gobierno de Mexico

“What did we find?” That here were pressures from representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. We discovered that it was one group who made the medicines and that there were very few who distributed them. But they tie up the government with exclusive agreements to the different companies that manufacture the medicines,” he explained.

So basically, the distributors put pressure on doctors who specifically prescribed retroviral medications. He also clarified that purchases have always been made at the national level, however, they made no sense with the amounts of what they asked for in each state.

Despite this troubling revelation, the Ministry of Health has restated its commitment to securing the best care for those in need of HIV treatment.

Credit: Gilead Sciences

The undersecretary added: “In May, we completely modified the HIV treatment scheme. First, we made it clear that we wanted the best medications, the most effective, the safest; second, we identified how many people could have this ideal medication scheme and it turns out that there were many more than those who were taking advantage of it.”

This latest news comes just months after the country reformed its HIV treatment regime, leaving many fearful of shortages.

Public health officials warned of the possibility that thousands of Mexicans who rely on HIV treatment could be left without life-saving services after the government changed the way it funds treatment.

Reforms announced last month to centralize drug procurement risk sparking shortages, they say, while the government counters that it has ample supplies and hopes its changes will save money and cut corruption in the drug buying process. It’s these reforms they say that will help combat problems such as being sold outdated and obsolete drugs.

However, many HIV activists warn of a public health crisis.

In February, the government also said that it would no longer fund civil society organizations, leaving more than 200 groups fighting the disease without resources for core activities, such as HIV testing.

New Study Shows That 28 Percent Of Millennials Refuse To Hug People Who Are HIV-Positive

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New Study Shows That 28 Percent Of Millennials Refuse To Hug People Who Are HIV-Positive

Steve Rhodes / Flickr

One in three Black and Latino millennials said they avoid shaking hands with HIV-positive people, according to a new study from the Prevention Access Campaign and pharmaceutical company Merck. While many of us understand HIV stigma as a relic of the Boomer generation, the new study, centered around millennial perception, found that stigma remains as a social barrier for those living with HIV. Not only do nearly all respondents (90 percent) living with HIV agree that they may avoid sharing their status for fear of losing friends or family, or experiencing mental, physical or emotional abuse, but they’re right. While 28 percent of HIV-negative millennials self-reported that they would avoid “hugging, talking to or being friends with someone with HIV,” but 34 percent of HIV-negative Latino and Black millennials said they wouldn’t even shake hands, share food, drinks or utensils with someone with HIV. The HIV strain is not transferrable through casual contact and can only be transferred by contact with infected blood or sexual fluids.

The survey found that young adults were more likely to be generally confused and uninformed about HIV than older generations who lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Generation Z or Zoomers were found to be even less informed than millennials.

Ultimately, the study found that young people “are not being accurately informed about how HIV can and cannot be transmitted.”

CREDIT: @MPCAPS / TWITTER

 In case you don’t know where you fall, Zoomers are people currently aged 18-22, and Millennials are those currently aged 23-36. “Despite scientific advances and decades of HIV advocacy and education, the findings highlight a disturbing trend: young adults overwhelmingly are not being informed effectively about the basics of HIV,” said Bruce Richman, founding executive director, Prevention Access Campaign and the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign. “These findings are a call to action that the crisis in the United States is far from over. It’s time to elevate a real conversation about HIV and sexual health among America’s young people, and roll out innovative and engaging initiatives to educate and fight HIV stigma.”

The ignorance around the facts is staggering, including among those who have been diagnosed and are being treated by medical professionals.

CREDIT: @POSITIVE_TRANS / TWITTER

Only 31 percent of HIV-positive millennials understood that the term “undetectable” means that an HIV-positive person cannot transmit the virus sexually. Half of the HIV-negative respondents believed they could still contract the virus from someone who is “undetectable.” Undetectable means untransmittable, and it’s a major scientific advance in the fight against HIV. 

If taken as prescribed, which nearly 30 percent of the respondents do not, HIV medicine reduces the amount of HIV in the blood (viral load) to a very low level, which keeps the immune system working and prevents illness. Viral suppression is defined as having less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood. When an HIV-positive person who is taking medication receives a ‘negative’ test, it means the viral load is so low there is effectively no risk of them transmitting HIV sexually.

The Prevention Access Campaign seeks to end both the epidemic of HIV and its associated stigma, which form a negative feedback loop in public health.

CREDIT: @MERCK / TWITTER

Understanding the problem is the first step in preventing a deepening of the HIV epidemic,” said Dr. Peter Sklar, director, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories, and practicing physician caring for people living with HIV. “We must continue to search for ways to better understand young people’s perceptions of HIV, promote safer sex behaviors and drive education and action in this population. It’s time to act. We are proud to champion these important issues with Prevention Access Campaign.”

Millennial Latinos have the highest rate of contracting HIV by having sex without condoms or PrEP.

CREDIT: @CDC_HIVAIDS / TWITTER

While more than two-thirds of HIV-negative young adults said they were most fearful of contracting HIV compared to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), more than half of the same pool of people don’t use condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in STI prevention. That means that young adults have a strong fear of contracting HIV but are largely not taking preventive measures to protect themselves, and the study suspects it’s simply for lack of education and stigma. The fact that the majority of young adults are not using condoms or PrEP is alarming given that more than 75 percent of HIV-positive millennials reported that they contracted HIV through sex without condoms or PrEP.

Even more alarming is that the stigma around condoms and PrEP are putting Black and Latino millennials at higher risk. Around 84 percent of HIV-positive Latinos and 79 percent of HIV-positive Black Americans reported contracting HIV through sex without condoms or PrEP use.

While Latinos make up 18 percent of the US population, they account for 26 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the US in 2017, according to the CDC.

Know your status. Get tested.

READ: Remembering Pedro Zamora, The HIV-Positive Man Who Changed Hearts And Minds While On ‘Real World: San Francisco’