Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

The Power of Image in Public Health Education: China 1930-2004


“A declaration of a war on SARS using a 1960s image”

In the realm of ICT (information and communciation technology) we have a current tendency to focus on the internet and mobile phone technology. Yesterday, while I was at the NIH campus, I was reminded of the powerful use of another form of ICTs – posters and poster advertisements. The NIH has a collection of over 7000 posters documenting public health and Chinese society from 1930s to SARS.

A visiting scholar (Dr. Liping Bu) in charge of this project discusses the importance of tactics for reaching people on a mass scale: “Say you have a public health problem whose scale is vast: a population of 500 million, with 90% living in the countryside, where the literacy rate is 5% and life expectancy is 35 years. Malnutrition is stark. Disease and mortality rates are atrocious – millions of cases of cholera, smallpox, typhoid, malaria, TB and schistosomiasis. Meanwhile, the country is emerging from decades of conflict, foreign invasion and civil war. This was China, 1949…Later in 1965 85-90% of the population lived in rural areas and 80% of health care workers lived in cities. A massive public health campaign was born that included ‘barefoot doctors’…While only 40% of barefoot doctors were women, a female was used as the public image which helped advance the idea of women as workers of equal status with men…the posters have played a key role in educating the public” The NIH poster collection can be found here.



“In 1965, a massive public health campaign used posters touting barefoot doctors”

Posters have been a powerful force in shaping public opinion because propagandists have long known that visual impressions are extremely strong. People may forget a newspaper article but most remember a picture… The main objective of posters…is to influence attitudes…to alter the consciousness of the public to bring about an improvement in health practices.”- William H. Helfand, National Library of Medicine.


Written by thd

October 24, 2006 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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