"We want to get the buzz and the conversation going, because it's easy to take these important lifesaving tools for granted." - Dr. Christopher Elias, Gates Foundation
The Art of Saving a Life is a creative project commissioned by the Gates Foundation in January 2015 with the goal of providing an opportunity to hear, see, and feel the impact of immunisation and to energise the global effort to protect every child from life-threatening disease. The Art of Saving a Life is a collection of stories about how vaccines continue to change the course of history. They are stories of risk and bravery, the passion and dedication of scientists, the love of parents, and the determination of health workers. The Art of Saving a Life is designed to support the work of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance by spurring conversations about the value of vaccines.
The Art of Saving a Life stories are told by more than 30 photographers, painters, sculptors, writers, filmmakers, and musicians from 2 dozen countries to impress urgency on the global community to reach all children with the life-saving vaccines they need. As one can see on the Art of Saving a Life website, the artists created representations focused on the past, present, and future impact of immunisation – each piece is drawn from the individual artist's inspiration. Artists were encouraged to use their skill and creativity to develop art that was both a personal reflection and interpretation of their chosen vaccine-related story. The artists received a nominal fee to cover their time and operational expenses. "From sculptures to paintings, from digital animations to music, artists have been inspired to capture the amazing power of vaccines," said Gavi Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Seth Berkley. Select pieces of the Art of Saving a Life artwork were displayed at a January 27 2015 high-level event in Berlin, Germany, bringing together Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the private sector, and other partners.
For example, Germany's Christoph Niemann is an illustrator, artist, and author who wanted to tell the cold chain story through new characters: a grown up and child bird. (Delivering vaccines to hot climates requires a "cold chain", a way to preserve vaccines temperature at a few degrees above freezing at all times.) Using animation and what are meant to be charming, simple depictions, Christoph's art seeks to bring viewers on a lively journey to some of the most remote places on earth (see video, below). To cite a few other examples: Annie Leibovitz snapped a black-and-white portrait of people involved in vaccine development; Fatoumata Diabaté, a photographer from Mali, captured the last phase of trials for an Ebola vaccine; and the German painter Thomas Ganter paid tribute to the little-sung medical aides who administer the shots, with his oil on canvas of "The Unknown Health Worker".
Countering anti-vaccination rhetoric was part of the reason that Alexia Sinclair, a photographer from Australia, participated, she said. "I have a young daughter, and it's quite a hot topic here," she said, adding that she thought that producing a work of art "allows the conversation to happen in a clearer way."
The intent is that these artists' work will spread virally - in the digital sense - and be shared on social media with the hashtag #VaccinesWork to inspire a dialogue and donations.
Immunisation and Vaccines
According to the Gates Foundation, vaccines save millions of lives each year and are among the most cost-effective health interventions ever developed. Immunisation has led to the eradication of smallpox, a 75% reduction in childhood deaths from measles over the past decade, and the near-eradication of polio. Despite these strides, 1 in 5 children worldwide are not fully protected with even the most basic vaccines. As a result, an estimated 1.5 million children die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumonia and rotavirus. Tens of thousands of other children suffer from severe or permanently disabling illnesses.
"What can cartoon birds teach us about immunisation?", Vaccines Work, Art of Saving a Life website, Gates Foundation website, and "Gates Foundation Uses Art to Encourage Vaccination", by Melena Ryzikjan, The New York Times, January 6 2015 - all accessed on January 9 2017. Image credit: Frank Viva