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Alumna Hopes Video Will Help Stem the Cholera Tide.

Article / Review by on February 9, 2012 – 8:03 pmNo Comments

Alumna Hopes Video Will Help Stem the Cholera Tide

A new animated video about cholera—how people get infected, how it spreads, and how to treat it—is drawing attention from health workers around the globe.

"The Story of Cholera" teaches how cholera spreads and how to treat and prevent it.

The video’s producer, Deborah Van Dyke, is a nurse practitioner in Vermont, a longtime aid worker for Doctors Without Borders, and a 1993 graduate of Harvard School of Public Health.

Van Dyke hopes the video, as well as others she is producing on newborn care, will benefit health care workers in low-resource settings all over the world. “People learn and remember through visual media,” she said. “It’s a great tool.”

Van Dyke’s videos—some animated, some live—are being produced through her fledgling nonprofit, the Global Health Media Project, and will be available for free via Internet download, viewable on smartphones or other mobile devices, and available on DVD or flash drive.

Animating a disease

Produced in collaboration with award-winning animator Yoni Goodman, the four-and-a-half minute video, “The Story of Cholera,” was released in late December and has already been seen by viewers in more than 100 countries. Simple and informative, it features a story about a young boy who helps his cholera-stricken father. Van Dyke wanted to make visible the invisible germs to help people more easily understand how the disease is spread and how to prevent it. So the cholera germs appear yellow against the black-and-white animation.

Health workers in countries such as Haiti, Cameroon, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, and Thailand have expressed interest in using the video. Van Dyke has plans to translate it into multiple languages.

The animation shows how human waste can infect local water supplies; how people contract cholera by ingesting tainted water or food, through skin-to-skin contact like a handshake that could lead to ingestion of the germ, or from flies; and the severe intestinal distress that cholera causes. It shows how to initiate rehydration of cholera victims with a solution of clean water, salt, and sugar, anywhere at any time. And it shows how to prevent cholera by boiling water supplies, using chlorine drops, washing hands before preparing or eating food, and making sure that human waste doesn’t get into the local water supply.

“Cholera itself is readily treated,” notes Van Dyke. “And understanding that whatever you put into your mouth needs to be totally clean goes a long way in helping you avoid getting sick.”

Video as training tool

After seeing too much needless loss of life on numerous missions abroad—to Sudan, India, Kosovo, China, Tajikistan, and other places—Van Dyke thought videos might be an effective training tool for health workers in low-resource, often isolated settings. She’d been thinking about it since 2005, during a mission in Afghanistan, where she developed training materials for health care providers. One day she showed a short video about inserting an IUD to a group of Afghan doctors, which, Van Dyke said, “electrified the room.” She searched for other such videos, but couldn’t find any that were clear, up-to-date, and tailored to low-resource realities. “It was a real gap,” she said.

Then, in the spring of 2008, leading a medical team in Sudan, Van Dyke saw a newborn resuscitation go wrong. She intervened and the baby lived, but the incident galvanized her. She knew that, too often, such situations turned tragic because health workers lack certain skills—not through any fault of their own, but simply because of minimal access to critical health care information.

In that moment, Van Dyke imagined creating a video focused on the basic technique for resuscitating a newborn.

“I thought to myself, ‘By employing new technology, this brief video could spread to health workers around the world quickly and easily,’ ” she said. “To see a limp blue newborn coming alive through the relatively simple technique of resuscitation is unforgettable. Teaching the technique through video will save newborn lives.” Although she didn’t know anything about producing videos, she decided to give it a try.

Back in the states, she took a week-long video production course to learn the basics of pre-production, filming, lighting, sound, and editing.

In addition to the cholera video, Van Dyke just finished the first 10 of the newborn care videos; they’re currently being field-tested. In each of her videos, Van Dyke solicits content from experts all over the world, and directs professional filmmakers in clinical sites in the developing world. The newborn care videos feature close-up views of health care workers on location in Nigeria and the Dominican Republic, as well as some animation to emphasize key learning points.

These days, Van Dyke divides her time between working as a nurse practitioner and developing the videos—networking to find collaborators, fundraising, and shooting footage worldwide, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Eventually, she said, she hopes to produce videos on other topics, such as childbirth complications, infection prevention, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Said Van Dyke, “We are eager to bring alive this simple and elegant solution of ‘moving images’ to help health workers gain the knowledge and basic skills that we know save lives.”

— By Karen Feldscher

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About Harvard Medical School (HMS)

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“Since 1872, Harvard Medical School has been the incubator of bold ideas—a place where extraordinary people advance education, science and health care with unrelenting passion.

Whether training tomorrow’s doctors and scientists, decoding the fundamental nature of life, advancing patient care or improving health delivery systems around the world, we are never at rest. Allied with some of the world’s best hospitals, research institutes and a University synonymous with excellence, the School’s mission remains as ambitious as it is honorable: to alleviate human suffering caused by disease.”

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About Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights.

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About Harvard University.

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. Harvard faculty are engaged with teaching and research to push the boundaries of human knowledge. For students who are excited to investigate the biggest issues of the 21st century, Harvard offers an unparalleled student experience and a generous financial aid program, with over $160 million awarded to more than 60% of our undergraduate students. The University has twelve degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, offering a truly global education.

‘Universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate… The ideal and breadth of liberal education that embraces the humanities and arts as well as the social and natural sciences is at the core of Harvard’s philosophy. ’/ Drew Gilpin Faust

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* The above story is adapted from materials provided by Harvard University

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