This interview was originally published by Battle Superbugs.
Children can change the world! So that’s why we were excited to meet the creators of Superheroes Against Superbugs, a program in India that aims to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance and superbugs and change behavior through comic books designed by children. Superheroes Against Superbugs was developed in collaboration with the DB/Wellcome Trust India Alliance. We interviewed Ponnari Gottipati and Sarah Iqbal, the leaders of Superheroes Against Superbugs to learn more about their important work!
We love the idea of comic books to illustrate this global public health threat and as a way to engage young people! How did this concept come to life?
When we first set out to develop a program that aimed to spread awareness on antibiotic resistance, we were keen to design it such that its impact lasted beyond the duration of our program. We were also keen to work with children, who can be the real change-makers and possess unique creativity and imagination that we so desperately needed for this project. We felt the best way to do that would be to partner with children to develop creative and innovative tools to talk about the AMR issue. We thought that this approach would not only keep the children invested in the problem but their work could further encourage others to think about the issue. Initially we had planned to develop animations, short films or virtual reality games and were looking for the right collaborators to help us do this. However, we soon found our perfect partner in Mr. Sharad Sharma, founder of World Comics India and grassroots comics pioneer in India. The philosophy behind grassroots comics particularly appealed to us – giving voice to people and enabling them to take ownership of issues that affect them. Compared to its tech counterparts, grassroots comics is a cost effective, simple yet a powerful medium that enables us to express our stories visually and importantly, does not require one to be artistically skilled. Also, comics by their very nature appeal to children and adults alike so it’s a great tool for engagement and communication.
What’s next with Superheroes Against Superbugs?!
The possibilities are endless because the AMR problem is extremely challenging and complex! One obvious step is to scale up the initiative and take it to different Indian cities. We would like to partner with research institutions to advance these efforts and to get biomedical researchers talking about this important issue to the public. We could also perhaps engage with other sections of the society like medical students or pharmacists and explore other mediums and tools of communication. But whatever we do, we intend to keep the fun element in our engagement approach intact!
In presenting your work, have you encountered other creative initiatives underway around the world or within India to educate and engage young people about antibiotic resistance?
e-Bug has brilliant material to engage with children of all age groups. There are also interesting animation films out there that explain the concept of antibiotic resistance in simple terms, we used some of these along with our games and activities in our workshops. We were encouraged to learn that the “Diary of a Staph” animation by CDDEP was developed based on an idea from a school student in Nepal. We also came across some interesting video games explaining resistance, one of them being the ‘Superbugs’ mobile game developed by Nesta targeting 11-16 year olds. ReACT Asia Pacific and Latin America have many programs for children, eg., Alforjo Educativa.
Superheroes Against Superbugs is unique in that the creative tools (i.e., the comics) are developed by the children themselves. We would also like to mention our other collaborators on this pilot without whom this project would not have been possible – Somdatta Karak (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India) and Madhuri Dutta (George Institute for Global Health India)!