A TB/HIV research organisation is piloting a project that aims to tap into science and art to address the Covid-19 pandemic in the Sub-Saharan region. Although the two disciplines are often treated as separate, the organiser of the initiative believe the two have a lot in common as both strive to understand and describe the world around us.
It is for this reason that the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) decided to put this theory to the test from July to September this year. It brought scientists and young African creatives together to participate in a COVID-19 project.
Funded by the African Academy of Sciences and led by SANTHE’s Dr Victoria Kasprowicz and Kim Darley Waddilove, the project saw scientists collaborating with artists to navigate their way through the current COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ to produce artworks reflecting some global truths surrounding the disease.
The interactions are meant to allow the artists to gain a greater appreciation of the science surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic as well as develop interest and understanding of science and its role in society. It is also intended to create an impactful collection of art that would stimulate further discussions with the wider public, said the organisers.
Similarly, they added, it was also hoped that the scientists would gain an insight into lay perspectives of the science of COVID-19 and potentially use this information to influence future research and science and also help in the efforts to formulate relevant policies. Furthermore, it was thought it would be ideal for the scientists to develop confidence and interest to participate in community and public engagement efforts.
“Coronavirus disease is a global health emergency and although sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been spared the brunt of the pandemic so far, severe resource limitations, a unique burden of comorbidity, and poor health infrastructure make the region particularly vulnerable,” said SANTHE programme director, Professor Thumbi Ndung’u.
He said there is also very little data on SARS-CoV-2 spread and disease presentation in SSA, which severely limits rational public health interventions. Infection with HIV and or Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), said Professor Ndung’u, are comorbidities that may potentially influence susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and severity of infection, and emerging data supports this hypothesis.
“SANTHE scientists are currently engaged in SARS-CoV-2 research to understand the interplay with HIV and Mtb and in the overall public health response. It is now a vital time to engage with our communities to obtain thoughts and opinions and gauge levels of interest and understanding as this may influence the direction of our research,” said Professor Ndung’u.
This project called for African youths to submit creative concepts representing their impressions of the COVID-19 pandemic. SANTHE then hosted an interactive virtual workshop with scientists and artists to explore some of the more popular COVID-19 topics. The artists then created final pieces which were put on exhibition for contemplation and enjoyment of by the wider public. The exhibition can be accessed here: www.artandscience.santheafrica.org.
Said project lead Dr Kasprowicz: “We received very positive feedback from the participants in this project, and many were very interested to take part in future projects combining art and science.”
The exhibition was also very popular with the general public with over 3000 individuals voting for their favourite pieces of art in the online exhibition competition. A panel of judges and public votes allocated a first prize of $1500USD to a fifth prize of $150USD as well as several merit awards.