Guerilla Art Meets Public Health Initiative

I am a complete sucker for stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help out their fellow man.

I suppose I like these stories because the ideas people come up with are almost always simple, elegant, accessible and obvious. Instead of an “aha” moment I have a “duh” moment, why didn’t someone (me) think of that sooner?!

The story of how the Haiti Catholic Relief Services and a local guerilla artist named Jerry Moses have teamed up to disseminate healthcare information in the city of Port au Prince is exactly one of those stories.

Imagine–only 2% of the earthquake rubble in Haiti has been removed and 1.3 million people still have only sheets and tarps for shelter. Now compound that misery with a cholera outbreak.

According to a United Nations report of December 3rd the cholera outbreak has killed more than 1,800 people and infected more than 81,000. And many of those who are infected may not recognize the disease so it is able to spread quickly. Add to that an illiteracy rate of 70% and you have the granddaddy of all public health communication challenges.

But here is where it gets inspiring.

The solution the Haiti Catholic Relief Services came up with is simple and accessible. They hired guerilla artist Jerry Moses–already a celebrity in Haiti–to create murals in public places throughout Port au Prince to get the word out about cholera.

People walk by Jerry’s murals on every street in the city-so why not hire him to create murals to teach people life-saving information? A simple and powerful example of how healthcare information can be communicated visually.

On the day I saw this story, Jerry’s message was –“clean water can save lives”–depicted in murals of people washing their hands after everything they do. Created with cans of spray paint on the sides of buildings and walls throughout the city the murals are big, graphic and hard to miss.

I don’t think it would be prudent for me to advocate guerilla art murals on the side of public buildings to you (running from police is not my strong suit) but I am an advocate of using visualizations to communicate healthcare information to patients.

Consider this–approximately 70% of all of the body’s sense receptors reside in the eye–perhaps that is why the words “understanding” and “seeing” are synonymous–and yet, when we are trying to communicate important information to patients we seldom use visual displays to help patients to understand their disease, their risk of complications or death to name just a few.

Instead we present patients with text laden information and consent forms that are filled with medical and legal speak about the disease or about the risks of interventions that essentially culminate in the message, “you might die, you might have a complication or you might have a complication and then die.”

Imagine instead consent forms that in addition to text also provide a visual display of the risks. For example, it might be icons representing the population of patients undergoing the same procedure with the patients who died as a result of the procedure represented by the same icon but in a different color.

Visual Display of Patient Risk for Consent
Visual Display of Patient Risk for Consent

Visually this conveys information in a simple and easy to understand way and provides patients with what they need to know in order to make a more fully informed decision about their healthcare. Like Jerry Moses’ guerilla art in Haiti, simple, graphic displays convey information much more powerfully to all types of patients than a long written explanation using terms and language ever can or will.

I also subscribe to the notion that intelligence imitates and genius steals. And so while I am waiting for my Mensa card to arrive (where is that thing anyway?) I am going to go see what other murals Jerry is working on and search around for some other great ideas–and yes, steal them.

See Gerry Moses Guerilla Art

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