SAWBO “goes Hollywood” for myth-busting COVID-19 animation

Scientific Animations Without Borders addresses common misconceptions about COVID-19

Screenshot from Scientific Animations Without Borders video on COVID-19.
Scientific Animations Without Borders has teamed with Hollywood animator Neal Sternecky to produce a COVID-19 video for distribution throughout Nigeria.

Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO), currently a Michigan State University (MSU) based program, has teamed with Hollywood animator Neal Sternecky to produce a COVID-19 video for distribution throughout Nigeria with collaborators at AREWA24, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Nigeria (UN OCHA), and the Nigeria Humanitarian Communications Working Group, in support of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

SAWBO was approached by long-time partner AREWA24, the Nigerian TV station that broadcasts to over 38 million people in Sub-Sharan Africa in their native Hausa language, and the Nigeria Humanitarian Communications Working Group, chaired by UN OCHA, to develop a myth-busting animation to address rampant misinformation on the coronavirus being spread throughout Nigeria.   

“There are many myths floating around about COVID-19 that are counterproductive to general health and well-being, which can, in fact, do a lot of harm,” said Julia Bello-Bravo, SAWBO co-founder and MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Assistant Professor. “We knew we needed to react quickly to provide evidence-based material for wide broadcast.”

“It is more crucial than ever to provide vulnerable people, particularly in conflict-affected northeast Nigeria, with accurate, timely and reliable information to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in areas that are already facing humanitarian crises,” said Eve Sabbagh, Head of Public Information at UN OCHA Nigeria. “Addressing misinformation, such as the popular belief that ginger and garlic could cure COVID-19, with engaging and informative animations can help protect those who need it the most.”

This is the second COVID-19 SAWBO release coming just days after completion of  Protecting Yourself from Coronavirus; the output of a collaboration with the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) at MSU. For this second release, SAWBO called out to its vast network of professionals. One answer came via a member of the Hollywood animation community.

Heeding the call was Neal Sternecky, longstanding supporter of SAWBO and animator of such Hollywood productions as Space Jam, Tom and Jerry, and Animaniacs, among other notable animated films and series. 

“I first found out about SAWBO when it was at the University of Illinois. As an alumnus of the institution, I was excited to hear about the mission of the program,” said Sternecky. “I began working with SAWBO creators and  was impressed with their passion, talent and vision. Their animations help many communities around the world, and I am delighted to be part of the team having such a positive impact.”

Over the years, Sternecky has volunteered his expertise working with SAWBO animators to help improve their craft.  According to Bello-Bravo, “while at University of Illinois, I taught an international development course using SAWBO as a model system and we also trained students in the SAWBO laboratory.  Neal engaged our students, in virtual space, provided them with a unique opportunity to interact with successful and experienced alumni, and gave them a profoundly unique educational experience.”

According to Barry Pittendrigh, co-founder of SAWBO and MSU Foundation Professor, “upon release of the first COVID19 animation, Neal contacted us to see where he might be able to help. In addition to mentoring students in the lab, he had assisted with the production of previous animations. We gladly welcomed Neal back to the team and he was a big part of making this animation a reality in such a short period of time.”

In just over two weeks, Sternecky worked with SAWBO’s team of animators, all fellow University of Illinois alumni, to create the new myth-busting COVID-19 animation for Nigeria.  The animation was released via AREWA24 to an audience in West Africa of over 38 million viewers.

SAWBO plans to translate the video into other language variants, where possible, for even greater reach globally. The first COVID-19 animation is currently available in 30 language variants with more added daily. These animations will be added to SAWBO’s library of over 90+ educational animations available in over 145 languages.

“This virus affects vulnerable populations who have limited access to information and resources especially hard. We’ve seen how this medium can reach across cultures, borders and literacy levels to effectively empower people,” said Stephen Esquith, Dean of RCAH. “SAWBO epitomizes the kind of innovative community engagement work that we value in the arts and humanities. It has provided our students with new learning opportunities and we look forward to further collaboration.”


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