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Art for Health: contemporary art and women’s health

February 13, 2009
Elisabetta Farina

Artist: Elisabetta Farina

Available from the World Health Organization’s website:


Indicators of sexual and reproductive health continue to show wide differences between developed and developing countries. For example, some 530 000 women and three million newborn babies die each year from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and almost all of these potentially preventable deaths occur in developing countries. The indicators also suggest that many developing countries are not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal No. 5 (reduce by 2015, the 1990 maternal mortality ratio figures by three quarters). Hence, the world faces a huge public health challenge and, among other things, there is an urgent need to develop innovative strategies for attracting the resources needed to improve women’s sexual and reproductive health.

As a step towards addressing this stark imbalance, the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organization launched in 2006 a project entitled “Art for Health”, or “A4H” for short. The goal of this project is to use art to increase awareness about, and promote action towards, improving sexual and reproductive health around the world, especially the health of women and children. The art commissioned for A4H is designed as a call to action, encouraging the viewer to participate in a unified effort to improve the lives of women of the present and future generations. The artwork also aims to change the stereotypical representation of underprivileged women as passive victims of circumstances with an image that shows these women as willing and capable partners in the advancement of women’s health.

In 2006, the artist, Ms Elisabetta Farina, was commissioned to produce the first series of paintings. Using a style originally developed during the Pop Art movement, the artist produced a set of paintings portraying positive images of women from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. A4H was officially launched at an exhibition in Rome on 27 June 2007. Organized through the collaborative efforts of the Italian Ministry of Health, WHO, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, and IMAGINE Onlus, this event was attended by over 300 government officials, scientists, and journalists.


The A4H project transmits key public health messages about women’s sexual and reproductive health through art to accomplish the following set of objectives:

  • Increase awareness of global disparities in women’s sexual and reproductive health;

  • Mobilize resources for the health of women and newborns around the world;

  • Expand beyond the scientific and public health communities to reach other audiences and engage them in the challenge of improving women’s sexual and reproductive health conditions;

  • Promote the notion that underprivileged women can be partners in the effort to change their adverse life circumstances and poor health outcomes.

Exhibitions and other activities

At the present time the Department of Reproductive Health and Research has in its possession 62 paintings of various sizes – all painted by the same artist. Some of these paintings were donated by the artist to WHO to initiate the project; the rest of the paintings have been purchased by WHO from the artist. These paintings are available for display at exhibitions, congresses and other meetings and events. They can also be used for campaigns (for printing on posters, calendars, cards, handbags, etc.) related to promotion of women’s and children’s health.

In June 2008, 38 paintings were sold at an auction organized by Christie’s and the NGO IMAGINE in Rome attended by numerous political, cultural and fashion celebrities, renowned journalist, diplomats, art collectors and gallery owners. The successful auction raised 34 400 euros and these proceeds are being used to improve the health and sanitary conditions of local communities in La Mosquitia, Honduras, through the development of a mobile health clinic (boat), with particular attention to pregnant women and young children.

One Comment leave one →
  1. TrectNentBync permalink
    September 9, 2010 8:05 am

    Excellent blogpost!! Very interesting… Looking for more posts like this!! Keep you the goodwork!
    Anyway thank you for this blog.

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