Colleagues at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh (PGI) and Panjab University (PU) transformed a superhero comic character who fights air pollution - which they were developing as part of a Health Care Without Harm project - into the central character in a comic book to educate children about the coronavirus. The comic book has been adopted by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and translated into multiple Indian
There are requests from individuals, doctors, and public health experts from countries like China, Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Czech Republic, Greece, and Indonesia to adapt the book in their respective languages.
In addition to developing materials for training medical professionals on public health impacts of air pollution under the Climate and Health Air Monitoring Project (CHAMP), the team at PGI Chandigarh and PU have also been developing ideas that would reach the message of air pollution and health to the masses. The team led by Dr. Ravindra Khaiwal (School of Public Health, PGI) and Dr. Suman Mor (Department of Environmental Studies, PU) zeroed in on children between the age groups of 6-14 years based on discussions with their children aged 8 and
14 and the CHAMP team members.
The idea of the comic book shaped up over dinner time: the superhero Vaayu (Sanskrit for wind) would play the protagonist while Smokey the antagonist. Vaayu was to be accompanied by Megha (rain-bearing clouds) and Surya (the sun). The message of air pollution and health would be delivered with the help of human characters: Doctor Aunty on health, Chatur Nani (clever grandma) on biomass and indoor air pollution, and Kisan Kaka (farmer uncle) on crop burning.
The task of developing the appearance of the characters was taken up by 8-year-old Aditya and 14-year-old Lakshya.
From air pollution to COVID-19
The launch of the air pollution comic book was on the agenda for April 2020. The emerging COVID-19 pandemic, however, prompted the team to pivot its attention and build on the legwork of the air pollution work, to produce a comic book explaining COVID-19 to children. The superheroVaayu was the messenger.
The English and Hindi version of the comic book was produced in less than 5 days and was vetted by the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India.
The MoHFW endorsed the book and decided to have it translated in all Indian languages for a larger reach.
The book has become very popular because of its simple format, easy to understand text, and vibrant characters. The Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) has put up the book on its website and is sending copies to schools around the country. CBSE is a division of the Ministry of
Human Resource Development, Government of India, and is one of the nodal bodies in India for school education.