A team consisting of researchers from Panjab University (PU) and the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) have produced a 22-page-long comic book to explain the coronavirus pandemic to young children. The comic, entitled “Kids, Vaayu and Corona”, was released by the Government of India on Monday.
At the heart of the effort are two young children, 9-year-old Aaditya Khaiwal and 14-year-old Lakshya Khaiwal, whose parents — Dr Ravindra Khaiwal from PGIMER’s Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health and his wife Dr Suman Mor, Assistant Professor at PU Department of Environmental Science — are behind the concept, script and idea for the comic. “It was truly a family effort, consisting of me, my wife and two children, as well as a team of young scholars from PU who have been associated with the work I am already producing in my department on public health issues,” says Dr Ravindra.
Apart from the Khaiwal family, Anchita Thakur and Kirti Dutt from PU aided the conceptualisation of the novel, and two other students from PU — Sonali Verma and Shruti Govel — made the graphics for the comic. Dr Ravindra had already been working with this young team of PU researchers on a comic strip about air pollution, when a conversation with his insightful young son Aaditya compelled him to draw his team’s focus towards creating a comic on coronavirus instead.
“One day before office, Aaditya came to me and asked me about coronavirus and enquired why people are dying everywhere. He seemed too concerned for a ten-year-old, and I told him I will inform him about the virus in detail after I come back from office,” claims Dr Ravindra. Though aware of the paranoia that had the majority of the world’s adult population in its grip, he was struck by how misinformation and paranoia could mold young minds and instil the same fear in them that has been pervading their parents’ minds. “Adults and older teens have ways of educating themselves and children under the age of five have no clue what is happening. It is the ages between five and 13 that I thought needed to be instructed about the epidemic in a coherent and balanced manner,” says Dr Ravindra.
After deciding to create the comic, the team took a total of 72 hours and worked almost throughout the night to produce the comic book and sent it to the government for approval by Saturday. “Our children’s exams were done, so basically the whole team and the children just sat at the table and we brainstormed together. The children looked over drafts and suggested sensible corrections as well!” claims an enthused Dr Ravindra. “We looked at the draft and spotted panels which weren’t placed correctly. We even corrected places where characters had suddenly disappeared and corrected some dialogues so that they sound more natural. We suggested many corrections,” says Lakshya, who has also been credited for his contribution to the comic.
The first page of the comic strip is inspired by Dr Ravindra’s interaction with his younger son, displaying a young boy going up to his father and asking him “Papa, what is this on TV? Something co.oo..oo.. Coronavirus!” However unlike Dr Ravindra, who decided to make a comic in order to explain the epidemic to his son, the father in the comic strip defers the task of answering his son’s query. As a result, the son and his friends call the titular superhero ‘Vaayu’, who patiently explains coronavirus epidemic to the children. “The character ‘Vaayu’ we had already developed for the strip we were making on air pollution. We decided to use him in this comic as well,” says Dr Ravindra.
As the endearing yet informative comic strip unravels, ‘Vaayu’ not only instructs the children on the basic of coronavirus infection and measures to take for prevention, but also adreeses the children’s anxiety by placing the epidemic in a broader context. Citing the low mortality rates for the virus, ‘Vaayu’ tells the children that in the past “we have seen SARS having mortality rate of 10 per cent, swine flu having mortality rate of 4 per cent and Ebola even more”. The character adds that in contrast, coronavirus has a considerably low rate of mortality at 2 per cent. The superhero further tells the children that “we need to be careful, but should not panic about coronavirus”.
“We cannot have our children be so anxious about the epidemic. It is here and it is a cause for concern so we should educate them on the precautions to take because that is the only effective tool against the virus,” says Dr Ravindra. “But we should refrain from inducing unnecessary fear in these young minds.”
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