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Elevating Art to Advance Science: A New View of Vaccination in 2015

Chris Elias, President of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program. 

As we ring in a new year, 2015 appears pristine in its promise and possibility. Inspired by a collective, daring goal, the public health community is set to extend the reach of immunization this year. We recognize the urgent need to reach the final fifth—that twenty percent of children who still lack access to life-saving vaccines.

Now is the time to feel invigorated by the many successes seen in recent decades thanks to vaccines. The world has witnessed the eradication of smallpox. We have experienced a 74 percent reduction in childhood deaths from measles over the past ten years. And, we are on the cusp of eradicating polio from the planet. Now is the time to use words like “universal” to describe the aspiration to reach every child with vaccines, regardless of where in the world he or she lives.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is always looking to support innovative and creative ways to expand access to and use of vaccines. Recent examples include an intuitive and simplified  redesign of the child health record and the development of a low-cost refrigerator that uses ice to keep vaccines cold for many days and, hence, does not require electricity, gas, or solar power to chill vaccines in remote areas. Achieving universal reach, however, necessitates reaching new audiences and sparking fresh conversations, engagement, and excitement around vaccines.


Alexia Sinclair: Edward Jenner’s Smallpox Discovery

Diego Rivera once described art as “the universal language.” Guided by this outlook, we reached out to a group of people well known for their creativity. Through The Art of Saving a Life, we asked musicians, writers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors, and photographers to share stories of immunization’s impact, both on the course of history and in the lives of those vaccinated.

Through this project, more than 30 renowned artists from two dozen countries have created unique and evocative works of art using a variety of media. Some artists chose to focus on invention, dogged pursuit, and dedication, highlighting the role of scientists. Others explored themes of bravery, determination, and risk, depicting the challenges faced by on-the-ground health workers. For me, the pieces that feature the voices, love, and emotions of parents resonate especially strongly.


Evgeny Parfenov: James P. Grant and the Child Survival Revolution

Ranging from lighthearted and hopeful to serious and somber, I find that each piece evokes a different thought, feeling, and reflection. I encourage you to view the digital gallery at, which will be updated as more pieces are released this month. If you choose to share the gallery via social media, please consider using #VaccinesWork to join the global conversation on this topic.

The timing of The Art of Saving a Life coincides with a high-level event hosted by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin to mobilize funds for immunization programs through 2020. Taking place on January 27, this pledging conference will support the work of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and offers an opportunity to raise an additional US$7.5 billion to save more than five million lives in the poorest countries in the world. With world leaders, members of the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations present, The Art of Saving a Life artwork on display will help attendees see, hear, and feel how much immunization matters.


Sebastião Salgado: The End of Polio

Now—while we are feeling refreshed and rejuvenated by the prospect of the New Year—is the moment for bold vision. Reaching every child means reaching every audience with stories of vaccination that express people’s experiences, inspire action, and encourage support. Through captivating works of art like those featured in The Art of Saving a Life, we can convey the essence of the life-changing work underway for children and their families everywhere—and communicate the value of vaccines in the language that speaks to all.

Originally published on  

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