What we do (and why we do it)
Picturing Health works in countries around the world using film and art to improve public health. We make innovative interactive films to train and motivate health workers, to turn research into practice, to inform and empower patients and to spark community debate and change attitudes towards health. Our projects cover topics from HIV, TB and diabetes, to emergency medicine and mental health. Our Art project, called CurArte, produces art for our films. But it also uses art in public hospitals with mural projects and uses art as therapy in mental health.
We work closely with partners on a project by project basis. Partners range from large organisations like the World Health Organisation, the Medical Research Council, London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine and other research institutes, to public hospitals and patients’ associations like the Diabetes Association of Malawi. We try to ensure that all our projects are guided by needs and experiences on the ground, rather than imported from outside. We also work closely with other charities and non-profit organisations working in the field like Medical Aid Films.
Picturing Health at present has no salaried staff, office or other overheads. Rather, we put together teams on a project by project basis. We rely heavily on professionals donating time or offering cheaper rates for charity work, allowing us to keep overheads to a minimum. Film-makers who work on our projects, charge below commercial rates. This website was built at a fraction of the normal cost. Much of the Art project has been done entirely on a voluntary basis. The charity’s executive director earns money from making films, but runs the charity on a voluntary basis. The important work of Trustees is also voluntary.
Where possible we provide on-the-job training for local film makers who do much of our filming, with the long term aim of building local capacity to make health films…
And we offer support to anyone who wants to make health-related films, whether researchers, NGOs, health professionals, film makers or patient groups. We can provide expert advice, help find partners, and offer a platform to raise funds and distribute films.
Getting the right medicine
Our films are approved by experts, and follow the principles of evidence-based medicine. Often film projects are off-shoots of big randomised controlled trials. We make a film to disseminate research results, and then further films to put new practice into training.
We do research to make sure that key messages of films are understood by the target audience, and change them if they are not.
Local guidelines are the starting point for training films. But we also try to explain the thinking behind guidelines, and provoke discussion as to how to apply guidelines in real cases, where answers are sometimes less clear. This means that not everyone will always agree with everything in the films. The medical world has many opinions, and we hope to reflect these debates.
While only recently registered as a charity, those involved in Picturing Health have been making health related films for much longer.
The oldest film on this site (A Trial for Life, a documentary about a major clinical trial researching roll out of HIV treatment in Africa,) was made in 2009.
Further films about research in Africa and elsewhere, soon led to making training films for clinicians and health workers – after all they are the key target audience to turn research results into clinical practice.
As we filmed case study films, it became clear that successful treatment depends on much more than doctors giving medicines. If those receiving treatment are not empowered through knowledge to be part of the process, then treatment too often fails. So we started making films aimed at patients and communities, to change the way they picture health.
Most of the 60 films on this site were made before Picturing Health came into being. We have another 30 films in post production, or being updated.
Why put money into health education films?
Prevention is better than cure. Sharing knowledge, changing attitudes to health in families and communities; provoking discussion and empowering people is the key to better prevention.
But too often health communication and education is dealt with as an afterthought and not a central part of programs. Or worse it is left to institutions with no knowledge of public health.
While we have no infrastructure or salaried staff, meaning minimal overheads, we do pay for services: translation, filming and editing, website building and maintenance, accounting and others.
Film projects are often funded by institutional partners. But, without our own funding, we miss good opportunities to take full advantage of these partnerships, to create and distribute materials for other audiences.
For example we recently made films for the World Health Organisation to disseminate findings of a major research project that showed how HIV positive “Mentor Mothers” in Malawi and Nigeria can dramatically improve the numbers of women who stay on life-saving treatment, and stop children from being born infected with the virus.
At the same time we took advantage of the opportunity to collect material to train Mentor Mothers, and encourage women who test HIV+ at ante-natal to stay on treatment. We need to use our own resources to turn this material into films.
We are raising money to:
• Maximise film projects funded by partners.
• Develop and make films funded directly by picturing health.
• Translate our films into different languages and adapt them to different settings and guidelines.
• Distribute our films more effectively, actively sharing with partners and organising screenings for community films.
• Evaluate films, to make sure that the intended messages are understood and make improvements.
• Continue to expand the Art program.