Sesame Street will soon introduce its first HIV-positive Muppet character to children of South Africa, where one in nine people have the virus that can lead to AIDS.
The upbeat female Muppet will join "Takalani Sesame" Sept. 30 for its third season on the South African Broadcasting Corp.
The character -- which has yet to have a name or final color or form -- will travel to many if not all of the eight other nations that air versions of the educational children's show that began in the United States in 1969, said Joel Schneider, vice president and senior adviser to the Sesame Street Workshop.
Schneider said talks are under way to introduce an HIV-positive character to U.S. viewers.
Schneider announced the new character this week at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, where he spoke by telephone Thursday.
"This character will be fully a part of the community," Schneider said. "She will have high self-esteem. Women are often stigmatized about HIV and we are providing a good role model as to how to deal with one's situation and how to interact with the community."
The program is aimed at children from 3 to 7 and the messages delivered by the new character will be "appropriate," said Schneider, meaning that there will be no explicit mention of sex.
"Not every show will deal explicitly with HIV/AIDS," Schneider said. "We want to show that here is an HIV-positive member of our community who you can touch and interact with.
"We will be very careful to fashion our messages so they are appropriate to the age group. What do I do when I cut my finger? What do I do when you cut your finger? That sort of thing."
"Takalani Sesame" will be the second children's show in South Africa to have an HIV-positive character. But it is believed to be the first among shows designed for preschoolers, said Beatrice Chow, spokeswoman for the Sesame Street Workshop in New York.
In some parts of South Africa, 40 percent of women of child-bearing age are infected with HIV, and in 2000, about 40 percent of adult deaths in South Africa were attributed to AIDS, according to the U.S. State Department.