Fighting avian flu with puppets in Romania

Puppets teach rural Romanian families to proetect themselves against avian flu.

When H5N1, the virus that causes avian influenza, was identified in Romania in late 2005, USAID was one of the first to respond. Largely due to the quick and effective work of USAID/Romania and its partners, including the Romanian Ministry of Health, there have been no cases of H5N1 infection in humans to date. But the threat has not gone away, and USAID continues to work to protect the health of Romanian citizens.

In August 2006, USAID implementing partner JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., launched a campaign to teach children from rural families how to protect themselves from avian influenza. Local public health authorities, community nurses, Roma health mediators, and family doctors from rural areas joined young students from Bucharest's Academy of Film to put on an exciting musical puppet show and educate the public. The traveling show was specifically designed to target difficult-to-reach groups, such as children not in school and those with low literacy, which are at greatest risk for infection and often missed by traditional school-based prevention programs. The puppets performed in eight Romanian counties at high risk for future outbreaks of avian flu.

The innovative campaign targets those at high risk: children.
The puppet story b
egan as two conceited hens are horrified by the dramatic death of a common pigeon in their yard. The village priest and the local doctor convened upon the scene and asked the children in the audience if they know what to do if they see a dead bird. Messages about staying away from dead or sick birds and about washing one's hands were repeated through catchy, amusing songs, with the actors addressing the audience directly. As the show continued, the pigeon was sent away to be tested at a lab, leaving the two hens deeply worried… after all, if the H5N1 virus is detected in their village, the hens knew what would happen to them! And their favorite rooster seemed to have a cold…

Luckily, all's well that ends well, and all ended well for the hens and the villagers (except for the pigeon, who, it turns out, died of natural causes… whew!). Lessons about the need to wash eggs before cooking and to heat poultry products above 70 degrees C were repeated in a non-alarming, funny way. At the end of the show, the doctor and village priest gave special coloring books with avian flu safety messages and colored pencils to the children in the audience.

Children and adults have enjoyed the production immensely. JSI R&T recorded the show and subtitled it into English, so that it can be used as a resource by other countries facing the threat of avian flu.