Superheroes against Superbugs initiative aims to raise awareness of antibiotic resistance and promote community dialogue and action by engaging with young children in India.
Launched in 2018, the Superheroes against Superbugs (SaS) pilot program partnered with school children through innovative science education and public engagement approaches. This unique program is built around the premise that young minds are capable of influencing behaviors around them and can bring about transformative change when equipped with knowledge and the right tools. The SaS program also emphasizes the need for the general public to become ‘superheroes’ as much as we need our scientists and governments to fight this century’s biggest health threat.
As part of the SaS pilot, two workshops of three days were held at a government and a private school in the city of Hyderabad in India. 30 children from each school participated in various interactive, hands on activities around microbes, infections, antibiotics and antibiotic resistance designed to convey the complex topic of antibiotic resistance in a fun and interesting manner. Follow-up sessions were held with the students between 2-4 months after the workshops. The program targeted 13-14 year old children, an age at which they can understand the scientific and health complexities of antibiotic resistance and contribute towards spreading awareness. The program also provided a platform for the young participants to initiate a dialogue with for example scientists, medical doctors, parents and pharmacists. Activities were designed to use inexpensive and locally sourced material for ease of reproduction and scaling up.
Once equipped with knowledge on the issue the children were encouraged to explore different creative mediums to narrate stories and develop tools to initiate and sustain a dialogue on antibiotic resistance.
The program used Grassroots comics, a simple, cost effective and powerful engagement tool to enable the children to develop their own comics on different aspects of antibiotic resistance including: health and hygiene, misuse and overuse of antibiotics, environmental issues surrounding antibiotic resistance, misuse of antibiotics in animal farming and science of superbugs, while warning of its dangers. The children then used these comics to further engage with their peers, teachers, parents and community. A sense of ownership of the comics ensured that the dialogue on antibiotic resistance initiated during these sessions was sustained beyond the workshop.
In addition to grassroots comics, participating children also developed posters, slogans, skits and animation film stories discussing the issue, with guidance from animation and VFX experts.
The pre- and post-workshop feedback assessment, group discussions and interviews at various time points after the workshops showed that the program was effective in conveying the information on antibiotic resistance. The project was also successful in initiating a dialogue on antibiotic resistance among other participants as well, such as technologists, artists, parents and school teachers. For example following the workshops, the participating schools initiated good hygiene practices efforts and included sessions on antibiotic resistance in their school programs.
Challenges and solutions
|Conveying the complexity of antibiotic resistance to young students||Using videos, role-plays and fun hands-on activities to explain the science|
|Making the problem relatable to children to ensure action and sustainability||Soliciting children’s own experiences through experiential-learning assignments and creative activities like skits and comics to help them reflect on how this problem affects them on a personal level|
|Ensuring scientific accuracy and avoiding oversimplification of the antibiotic resistance issue in comics||Monitoring closely, but with minimal interference, by facilitators during story development so that the children’s sense of ownership for the creative tools is not impacted|
|Accounting for socio-economic and cultural differences that lead to differences in the perception of antibiotic resistance||Designing culturally sensitive communication content and engagement strategy, keeping the audience in mind|
There were significant lessons learnt during the pilot program, some outlined below:
- To ensure sustainability, community (in this case, the students and schools) needs to recognize and own the problem and subsequently the solution
- Public engagement approach and health communication strategy would and should differ depending on the target audience.
- Language – The need to develop awareness material targeted at the public, in different languages, not just in English.
This pilot program was funded by the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance and developed in collaboration with the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad (scientific partner), World Comics India (engagement partner) and George Institute for Global Health India (evaluation partner).
|Educational resources from Superheroes Against Superbugs||Educational materials. Collection of presentations, hands-on activities, role plays and games on various aspects of microbes, infections, antibiotics and antibiotic resistance developed for the SaS workshops.|
|Grassroots Comics from Superheroes Against Superbugs||Comics. Collection of grassroots comics developed at the SaS pilot workshops on various issues around antibiotic resistance.|
|Superheroes against superbugs – pilot program report||Report describing the pilot program in more detail, including description of the different sessions that were held in the workshops.|