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Animated COVID-19 prevention video goes viral

Two videos created by a Stanford Medicine educator are being used to teach people around the globe about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Working on a video about how COVID-19 spreads, Maya Adam, MD, aspired to produce something that would captivate people around the world. A former ballet dancer, she knew the importance of holding an audience's attention.

"We want to really engage them, make them stay in their seats," said the Stanford assistant professor of pediatrics and director of health education outreach. "If we lose the audience, it's game over."

This video illustrates how the novel coronavirus -- the virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19 -- is transmitted among people and how transmission can be prevented.

The short, animated video Adam and her collaborators created, Global COVID-19 Prevention, was so successful it attracted 1.2 million viewers within 10 days of its March 21 release on Stanford Medicine's YouTube channel. Organizations in Guatemala and Sri Lanka have used it as a teaching tool, as have the U.S. Air Force and advocates in the deaf community.

Maya Adam photo by Tim Dang
Maya Adam

Adam wrote the story for the 2 1/2-minute video, in which an infected person gets on a plane and transmits the virus to fellow travelers. Those travelers then infect their family members and neighbors. The video ends with health care workers demonstrating how to prevent the spread of the virus.

The video with global appeal had global origins: An animator in South Africa drew characters and images that people around the world can relate to. An audio specialist in Mexico added sound effects. Adam paired music to the story, which features no spoken words.

"I think it went viral because it was it was done in a familiar, cartoon style," Adam said. "It was addressing a very scary issue in a way that was, to some degree, lighthearted and reassuring."

What should you do if you experience symptoms of COVID-19? This video illustrates practices for getting well and keeping others healthy

The artists created a sequel, Staying Safe When COVID-19 Strikes, which Stanford Medicine released on April 22. It shows what to do if you become ill. Within 40 minutes of posting, it had garnered 3,300 views.

Adam began making health education videos when she spent a year in South Africa working with the country's national department of health. There, she learned how to appeal to a broad audience: Keep the story simple, but interesting enough to hold attention.

"I like to call it healthflix," she said. "If we can make our health education binge-worthy, we've really got something."

Top image from Global COVID-19 Prevention video. Middle photo by Tim Dang.

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