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Zika Education Using Costumes & Fun Models

Interactive, relatable models can impart valuable prevention and awareness lessons to the public.

Photo of Alisa Ahmadian

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Theater, dance, costumes, dioramas, Zika, HIV. On the surface, it may seem that some of these things are not like the others, however, theater and fun interactive activities can serve as powerful tools for outreach and education when it comes to Zika awareness. 

Recently during Brazil's Carnival festival, activists took to the streets dressed in mosquito costumes-- rather than the traditional costumes made of jewels and feathers-- to get out of the word about disease prevention (as documented by this NPR article: A group of teens also marched in the Carnival crowd passing out condoms and singing a song to go along, doubly helping to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDs and Zika during the country's prime party season.

These forms of fun, relatable public outreach and awareness programs are not new to the recent Zika outbreak. There are countless of global examples of groups utilizing the arts and playful techniques to engage communities in a real conversation about disease prevention. Wise Up, a theater program developed by UNICEF in Botswana, employs high-school aged children to perform 20-minute plays to teach audiences about HIV/AIds transmission. The result? "When a play is performed by a local drama group for a local audience in a local language, it has the ability to reach an audience member with a particular message that can have a lasting impact." (Read more:

How can we build in playfulness and art into the fight to prevent Zika?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Deborah Nyambu

Very true Alisa!  This kind of learning has a great impact to the community as well as to the children taking part in the plays and activities.  They will never forget the message!

Photo of Emma Kelsey

Great ideas, Alisa! I saw similar approaches in Haiti, where teenagers in the communities near Leogane used plays, song, and dance to educate their communities about public health issues. I agree that similar approaches would be valuable in educating communities about Zika in culturally appropriate and compelling ways.

Photo of Minh Nguyen

Hey Emma Kelsey do you know the organization or have an article that you could share re:Haiti? I would love to look it up. 

Photo of Emma Kelsey

Yes! The organization is GOALS Haiti. This blog post briefly discusses their use of skits and theater for health education:

Photo of Alisa Ahmadian

Hi Emma. Great to hear about your first-hand experience. Curious, do you know if the teenagers were trained and paid for their outreach work? I'm particularly compelled by the possibilities for building in income generation into this model. 

Photo of Emma Kelsey

Hi Alisa, that sounds like an interesting idea! In the case of GOALS, the students learn about health issues and then pass what they have learned on to their communities through performance. They are not paid but do participate in broader educational and sports-related programming. 

Photo of Minh Nguyen

Hey Lauren Kaplan this post reminded me of the community/student education perspective you brought into Adam Crawley 's post on USDA's Invasive Mosquito Project. Not the same but I thought you'd be interested. 

Alisa Ahmadian  and Emma Kelsey  if you haven't seen Adam's post, see below.!comments-section

Photo of Lauren Kaplan

Minh Nguyen thanks for linking in -- it is a really exciting idea and reminds me also of work in South Africa using elements of the theater of the oppressed in HIV/AIDS education -- Alisa Ahmadian the mosquito costumes in Carnival are brilliant, this is has a lot of potential. 

Photo of Minh Nguyen

umm. I LOVE THIS post. the use of the arts and fun to spread awareness is definitely something we need more of... it gets to a deep emotional response that I'd like to believe brings more long term fulfillment. I will have to tell my friends in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica for soca season, especially as pandemics like Zika continue to persist. 

Photo of Alisa Ahmadian

Hi Minh! Great to meet you, and thanks for your feedback. I got to spend some time performing research in the hospital system in Sierra Leone's capitol city, Freetown, a years back. One thing that really struck me was the use of theater in community health work-- when teams dispersed into rural towns, they often utilized comic books or performance to help with outreach on HIV/AIDs. I thought it was brilliant!

I'm hoping that this approach can be folded into different concepts in the Ideas phase. In my mind, these methods can be utilized by all!

Photo of Minh Nguyen

Yes. I hope someone develops more on this concept and is able to implement it. Do you have any photos from your experience back in Freetown?

Photo of Alisa Ahmadian

I'll have to dig into the archives to grab photos from my Freetown experience. I am based in the Bay Area and will do my best to make it to the event next Weds--sounds amazing. Thanks for the invite!

Photo of Minh Nguyen

great! thank you Alisa. if you have friends there or other places that can share their experiences too on OpenIDEO it'd be great to have that insight. see you soon.

Photo of Neshani Jani

Hi Alisa - this is really great concept and way to integrate knowledge about Zika into Brazil's cultural fabric! Your comment about the use of theater in community health work reminded me of an article I saw about how Sesame Street will be using Elmo to educate children in Latin America and the Caribbean about avoiding mosquito bites and stopping the spread of Zika. It's definitely cool to see that there is  a movement forming around artists and educators to spread awareness of Zika to people of all ages. If you are interested, here is the Sesame St. article!

Photo of Alisa Ahmadian

Hi Neshani. Thanks for highlighting this example, and for sending over the article. I love this strategy because it focuses on a crucial population: children. There's such amazing impact to be had here because children tend to spread information rapidly within their communities, and they will carry this knowledge for years to come! Elmo is a universal teacher, huh?

Photo of Vikas Meka

Thanks for the post! Drama and plays are great ways to lighten the mood in moments of crisis, and provide a channel to educate the public in a fun way. 

Photo of OpenIDEO

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