18 January 2024 - Peru

Huggable puppy backpack comforts children on the frontline of the climate crisis in Peru as dengue cases surge

a girl wearing a puppy backpack on a street in peru

“When I heard that the rains were returning, I wasn’t as scared, because I had Panchito and my mom by my side.” - Yaira, 11, PERU

LIMA, 18th Jan - Children in Peru at the sharp end of the climate crisis have been given a huggable backpack shaped like a puppy, designed to comfort the wearer in times of stress and containing a healthcare kit as cases of dengue fever surge due to climate change.

The backpack, developed by Save the Children and named Panchito meaning ‘little Pancho’, a popular boy’s name, has arms that can encircle the wearer and paws that can join in a hug. It contains items that can help stop the spread of dengue including soap, a hand towel, toothbrush and toothpaste, and child-friendly information about dengue fever.

Last year, Peru faced its worst epidemic of dengue in over a decade, with at least 50 children killed and another 80,300 children infected by the disease.  The outbreak, which led Peru to declare a state of emergency in most of its provinces, was driven by climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, which brought torrential rains, floods and an increase in temperature.

Peru’s rainy season usually starts in December and finishes in March. The north of the country is already experiencing heavy rainfall, with fears that the rain will intensify and turn into

devastating floods once again.

Yaira*, 11, lives in Lambayeque, northern Peru. Last year the area experienced severe flooding which damaged Yaira’s home and school. Yaira is the youngest of 6, and lives with four of her siblings, her mother, father and grandmother, she said:

“When the rains came I felt a bit scared because the water was coming into our houses.”

Last June Yaira received a huggable backpack, she said:

“Panchito is a backpack with arms that button with a hook and loop tape, so the backpack hugs you. When Panchito hugs me, I feel comfortable.”

“When I heard that the rains were returning, I wasn’t as scared, because I had Panchito and my mom by my side.”

Extreme weather events such as floods can lead to outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases including dengue, as mosquitoes thrive in warm wet conditions. Last year Peru faced an unprecedented outbreak of dengue, with over 270,000 cases, including over 80,000 incidences in children. The overall number of cases is substantially higher than the previous peak of 74,000 in 2017, and nearly ten times higher than the annual average of 28,000 cases, according to Peru’s Ministry of Health.

Children are particularly vulnerable to dengue as their immune systems are weaker. Common symptoms include fever, rash, nausea and aches and pains. The Panchito backpack contains much needed information about dengue, which can be life-threatening for children.

Yaira said:

“When the rains stopped, I thought everything was over, but then dengue fever struck.

“Almost all of my classmates were sick with dengue. Yes, I got dengue too. I was at school, and I got a headache and fever too.

“There was a child here that lost his life to dengue. He was seven or eight years old. That scared me. When I heard about a boy passing away, I got really scared.”

The project also provides training on dengue prevention, safe water points, and fumigation of mosquitoes.  Yaira said:

“When the dengue fever returns, I know how to take care because Save the Children taught me how.”

Parents and caregivers have received training on supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing in relation to the climate crisis.

William Campbell, Country Director for Save the Children in Peru, said:

“The climate crisis can have a terrible impact on children’s mental health, as they worry about the world they will inherit. In Peru children witness the terrible impact of the climate crisis first-hand as their homes and schools flood and cases of dengue fever increase. The Panchito backpack provide children with much needed comfort and information at what can be a very distressing time.”

Save the Children has provided over 600 children with huggable backpacks and information about dengue.  The initiative is part of a larger water and sanitation project which supported nearly 9,000 people affected by floods.  Save the Children has worked in Peru since 1980 in disaster risk reduction, humanitarian response, education, protection and health. Between 2022 and 2023 we reached over 280,000 people including almost 100,000 children and adolescents.


Notes to editors 

* Name changed to protect anonymity


We have multimedia content to accompany the release: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2S3JK5NZ

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Ruby Wright, Global Media Manager, ruby.wright@savethechildren.org

Maria Gabriela Alvarado, Regional Media Manager, maria.alvarado@savethechildren.org

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