Virtual reality films bring new dimension to polio fight


At this year’s World Polio Day celebration in Atlanta, Rotary is harnessing the power of virtual reality technology to build empathy and inspire action in our fight to eradicate polio.

Rotary, with support from the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, produced a virtual reality film that tells the story of Alokita, a young adult who suffered paralysis from polio as a child growing up in India, which has been polio-free since 2011.

“When you open your eyes and see a different environment around you, you relate to the subject on a visceral, personal level,” says Vincent Vernet, direct of digital and publishing with Rotary’s communications team, who spearheaded the project. “The final push to end polio requires significant resources and emotional investment. This type of innovative technology has the potential to inspire that.”

Actress and polio ambassador Archie Panjabi introduces us to Alokita, part of the last generation of children to be affected by polio, and the doctors working to provide corrective surgery to survivors like her. Viewers are transported to India as soon as they put on the virtual reality headset, which transmits the 360-degree mix of sights and sounds. In this interactive environment, viewers roam the streets of Delhi and the halls of St. Stephen’s Hospital, home to India’s only polio ward, where Alokita takes her first steps in 11 years.

UNICEF has worked with virtual reality since 2015, recognizing that immersive experience can be a powerful advocacy tool. The agency also produced a film, You are there: On the road to making polio history, in this model. Actor and goodwill ambassador Ewan McGregor introduces and narrates the five-minute film, which takes us to a Kenyan village to meet a nine-year-old boy infected with polio and a vaccinator working to spare other children his fate.

Both films will debut on World Polio Day, at the Atlanta headquarters of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where facilitators will walk newcomers through the individual viewing process. Then the two films will travel to San Diego for an audience with Rotary leaders at the International Assembly in early 2017 and will be available to the public later in the year.

  • Watch the World Polio Day livestream at endpolio.org for a global update on the polio eradication campaign.
  • Use #endpolio to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Learn more about UNICEF’s virtual reality projects.



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