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Life-Saving Textile

Life-Saving Textile

Once Eliza Squibb 13 TX learned that more than 1,000 Malian women die each year of preventable cervical cancer, she was eager to help ensure they'd get early screening and treatment programs. This year the Textiles senior has been working with the GAIA Vaccine Foundation and Providence-based immunologist Annie de Groot, CEO of EPIVAX, to harness the West African tradition of storytelling through textiles to educate Malian adolescents and their mothers about the dangers of HPV and the availability of free vaccinations.

“It’s a great example of how design can be used to communicate science and health issues,” says Squibb, who was educated in part in Tunisia. “And it has been an amazing opportunity for me to use my RISD education in a broader context before I’ve even graduated.”

EPIVAX reached out to Interim Dean of Fine Arts Anais Missakian 83 TX, a Textiles professor who says she “knew instantly” that Squibb was the right designer for the project. “Eliza has received numerous awards, including a STEAM Fellowship,” Missakian says. “She has her sights set on a very clear career path – one that involves contributing to social issues.”

The Mali project got underway after GAIA bought a stockpile of HPV vaccines (enough to inoculate 11,000 young women) that had not been distributed due to political unrest and lack of funds. Since the vaccines are perishable, the organization moved quickly to start raising the $50,000 needed to distribute them to clinics in Bamako, Mali’s capital and largest city.

With a heightened urgency to get the word out among Malian women, de Groot turned to Squibb to design a textile that could double as a poster or info graphic. The result? A vivid print that is both beautiful in the abstract and educational when examined carefully. It shows images of fallopian tubes and uteruses surrounding a near-invasion of HPV viruses embedded in abnormal cervical cells. I immunize myself, I protect myself, and I take care of myself the fabric proclaims in French.

Healthcare workers who administer the vaccines are now wearing Squibb’s design to celebrate the vaccination campaign, and every Malian woman who receives the HPV vaccine is also given a piece of the fabric in hopes that she’ll pass on its life-saving message of prevention through vaccination.

–Simone Solondz