Can storytelling through film help tackle a disease so deadly that 1.3 million people die from it every year?
That’s the challenge tve’s Films for Change set itself in 2016, when we launched our pioneering public-health film project, combining scientists, media professionals, students and − most importantly − communities. The results from our first year demonstrate a model for public health awareness and action.
Fifty-two million people in India have hepatitis, and around 250,000 people in the country die from it each year — more than HIV and malaria combined. But it is a little known, largely neglected disease. In Mumbai, where we screened our films about hepatitis to audiences including former street children, we found that almost no one knew what caused hepatitis or how to cure it. That was before they viewed our films.
In 2016, with the backing of the Wellcome Trust, and working with the World Hepatitis Alliance, we launched our project, taking hepatitis science to communities through film. We began by recruiting university students in Lucknow and Mumbai for filmmaking training under the direction of media professionals. We also brought in some of India’s most renowned hepatitis specialists to ensure that the science in the films was accurate.
The result? Four powerful, personal, compelling films that changed viewers’ minds.
In Mumbai, where not a single viewer responding to our survey had been vaccinated against hepatitis:
- 68% of viewers now knew that a vaccination at birth could prevent hepatitis B
- 90% said they would get their children vaccinated
- 95% said they would recommend the films to others.
At our Lucknow screenings, more than half said they would get themselves tested if they showed symptoms, and the number of people who said they would go to faith healers fell by more than half.
The films also had nearly 300,000 views on social media.
‘These two months of film-making were one of a kind. We got to the roots of hepatitis, its causes, types, the virus, vaccines and cures. I hope this film inspires society to change its mind-set towards hepatitis-positive people.’
Neelu Sharma, student filmmaker now specialising in cancer and media
‘This was the first time I’d seen something about hepatitis. Now I will go and tell about this disease to all my friends.’
- Priya Kamble, 13, a student at the Hamara Foundation, which works with former street children
‘The programme succeeded in what, to me, was a primary objective: to veer young communications students in a developing country towards public-health journalism.’
Dr Rakesh Aggarwal, hepatologist, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences
‘Eliminating viral hepatitis will be no more than a fine aspiration if we are not able to address awareness with innovative projects like this.’
Charles Gore, scientific advisor to Films for Change and president, World Hepatitis Alliance
‘It was a privilege and a delight to be part of Films for Change. This was a fantastic opportunity for medical professionals and communications specialists, including the students, to get to understand each others’ language, idiom and concerns.’
Patralekha Chatterjee, health journalist and mentor to Films for Change student filmmakers