Grassroots Comics for Antibiotic Resistance : Superheroes Against Superbugs

13 Aug 2018

Grassroots Comics for Antibiotic Resistance : Superheroes Against Superbugs


Akansha, a 9th grader, has a story to tell—about an exciting race between the good bugs and bad bugs in her tummy to bag the “superbug trophy” under the stern supervision of “antibiotic master”. Akansha with her imagination magically transformed the concept of "natural selection" into a comic-story. Like Akansha, 30 other children from Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions (TSWREIS), Gowlidoddi, Hyderabad, participated in the Superheroes against Superbugs program and worked with Sharad Sharma (founder of World Comics India) to weave stories around concepts of antibiotic resistance that were artistically conveyed using the medium of grassroots comics.



Launched early this year, the Superheroes against Superbugs program is a unique initiative of the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance (henceforth, India Alliance) that aims to involve schoolchildren as partners in creatively engaging with the public on antibiotic resistance and its perils. According to projections of the United Nations, antibiotic resistance, if not tackled, could result in 10 million deaths worldwide by 2050. In India, about 50% of antibiotic prescriptions are inappropriate and 64% of antibiotics sold are unapproved. Approximately, 58000 newborns in India die each year because of infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria— superbugs. These alarming statistics have ironically attracted very little attention in our country. There is an immediate need to initiate dialogue in public about the serious threat of antibiotic resistance; this is especially important in India because of the significantly high incidence of inappropriate use of antibiotics, their misinformed consumption, and their easy availability. The Superheroes against Superbugs program identifies this need and aims to create a platform to initiate conversations about dangers of antibiotic resistance between the children and various community groups.



A pilot of the program was kick started in June 2018 at TSWREIS, Hyderabad, in partnership with Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad. Over a period of three months that included three full-day sessions, program facilitators, Dr Ponnari Gottipati, Dr Somdatta Karak, and Dr Sarah Iqbal, introduced various concepts related to microbes, infections, antibiotics, and resistance using interactive games and creative activities. Herein, the children are encouraged to explore mediums like comics and short animated films to initiate and sustain a dialogue on antibiotic resistance. In TSWREIS, Sharad Sharma introduced the children to grassroots comics. It was fascinating to note how the children developed comic stories based on different problems related to antibiotic resistance: dangers associated with stopping antibiotics mid-course, using antibiotics for viral infections, popping antibiotics without doctor’s consultation, environmental pollution with industrial dumping of antibiotics, use of antibiotics in poultry and dairy, and the importance of sanitation and hygiene.

Grassroots comics have empowered the students to develop comics on other issues. Here is what some of them had to say about the experience of developing these comic stories,

​“Whenever I heard about comics I thought of jokes. I never knew I could develop my own comics and use them to talk about important issues.”

​“My friends would laugh at my drawings, so I would go to other friends who would then draw for me. After this session, I am more confident about drawing and developing my own stories.”  




As we need our scientific and medical community to fight this century’s biggest health threat, antibiotic resistance, by developing a better understanding of the phenomenon, we also need the public to respond appropriately. The pilot of the Superheroes against Superbugs program proved that sensitising schoolchildren could be a very effective means of catalysing changes in community. The young minds of TSWREIS advocated the dangers of antibiotic resistance very enthusiastically in their school; transferred their knowledge to fellow students, school staff; and initiated changes through dialogue within the community. It was fulfilling to see how the students and staff were more aware of sanitation and hygiene just after one workshop. The hand wash soaps placed in many of the toilets and dining halls were medals of success for the Superheroes against Superbugs team.

This pilot has also been introduced in a private school (Global Edge School, Madhapur, Hyderabad) in Hyderabad in partnership with CCMB, Hyderabad and the George Institute for Global Health, India. This will enable the team to develop educational material suitable for different categories of schools and to seek perspectives on this issue from students and other members of the public from different socio-economic backgrounds.

The content and the tools developed in this workshop will be made available freely to be used as prototypes for future awareness and engagement activities around antibiotic resistance.

“Everyone is a superhero; our project and we emphasize the need for the public to become superheroes, identify the threat of antibiotic resistance, and create awareness and fight against it,” says the Superheroes against Superbugs team.

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For further information on the program, contact: Sarah Iqbal I [email protected]