Visual storytelling impacts of climate change on health

Making the invisible visible: storytelling the health impacts of climate change

Reda SadkiGlobal health

On March 18, 2024, the Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF) hosted a workshop bringing together 553 health workers from 55 countries with TGLF’s First Fellow of Photography and award-winning photographer Chris de Bode. Watch the workshop in English and in French. Poor connectivity? Get the audio-only podcast.

The dialogue focused on exploring the power of health workers who are there every day to communicate the impacts of climate change on the health of those they serve. Learn more

The Geneva Learning Foundation’s exploration of visual storytelling began, two years ago, with a simple yet powerful call to action for World Immunization Week: “Would you like to share a photo of your daily work, the work that you do every day?” Over 1,000 photos were shared within two weeks. “We repeated this in 2023, to show that it is people who make #VaccinesWork”, explains Charlotte Mbuh, the Foundation’s deputy director. Watch the 2022 and 2023 events, as well as the inauguration of the First International Photography Exhibition of the Movement for Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030).

In July 2023, over 4,700 health professionals – primarily government workers from 68 low and middle-income countries – responded to the call to share their firsthand observations of the impacts of climate change on health. Watch the special event “From community to planet: Health professionals on the frontlines of climate change“… Get the insights report

That is when Chris de Bode, who has spent decades documenting global health stories, expressed his excitement to flip the script:

“Over the last two years, we received so many pictures about your daily work. By asking you a new question, a different angle on what you work on, we can go a little bit deeper in what you actually do. Since you are on the front line everywhere in the world, it’s super interesting to create a collection of images to show the world and also show each other within the community.”

What would Taphurother Mutange, a community health worker from Kenya, want to show in the photos she will take?

“What I want to show to people is the floods. In my community where I work, the floods were too much. Water went into a house where there was a 12-year-old girl sleeping. The water carried the girl out, and up to date, as I’m talking, she has never been seen.”

She linked this devastation directly to health, adding, “So climate change goes together with health, because after the rains, the children, pregnant mothers, and even older people get sick, and you might see there’s not enough drugs in the facility. So we might even go on losing some lives.”

Brigitte Meugang, a health professional from Yaoundé, Cameroon, captured the essence of why visual storytelling matters:

“I’m attending this event because I believe that with a picture, you can say a thousand words.

And with a beautiful picture, you can learn a lot.

You can understand a lot.

And you can understand really the story just by looking at a picture, usually.”

Chris guided participants on the psychology and ethics of photography, the power of light, and how to create compelling visual narratives.

He challenged the idea that photos must be candid to be authentic.

“A picture is always subjective.

It’s your position as a photographer who decides which picture you take and what you want to tell with the image.

When I take portraits of people, I stage, and I always stage.”

Participants grappled with this in the context of their health work.

Emmanuel Musa, from Nigeria, highlighted the tension:

“Professionally, we’ve been asked to take pictures, action pictures, but not to have a kind of arranged, organized setting…

Because normally we look at pictures that are actionable, that probably funders can see, probably supervisors can see what’s happening in the field, instead of organizing a group picture, you set as if we’re in a studio.”

Aimée N’genda, a health worker from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), also emphasized the importance of consent and the risk of exploitation, especially in urban settings.

“Based on our experience, you need to ask for a written consent that you should keep, because you’ve got some people that will take advantage of it and think that when you take pictures of their children, they think you make money out of this, without paying them any fees.”

Despite the challenges, Chris affirmed the unique power health workers have as visual storytellers.

“You guys and ladies, you are there on the spot.

You’re there every day.

You have a large, large advantage on us, professional photographers who have to go there.”

Participants left energized to apply what they learned.

François Desiré, for example, declared, “I’m going to share pictures of mobile clinics that integrate immunization and nutrition.”

The dialogue equipped health workers to harness visual storytelling to communicate vital stories of how climate change impacts health in their communities, sparking change through the power of a single image.

The Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF) is actively seeking a donor or sponsor to support visual storytelling by health professionals.

Version française: Raconter la santé en image: un atelier photo avec Chris de Bode pour Teach to Reach 10

This story was written by generative AI, based on a word-for-word transcript of the workshop.

Image: Screen shot of the chat during the workshop “Visual storytelling for health” on 18 March 2024.