Why This Simple Beaded Bracelet Won a Grand Prix for Good at Cannes

Joining culture and medicine

CANNES, France—Alongside Afghanistan’s Ministry of Health, McCann Health and McCann Worldgroup Partner scooped up the Cannes Lions Health Grand Prix for Good this year. Their campaign, “The Immunity Charm,” also won the most awards ever at Lions Health—four gold Lions, four silvers and one bronze.

“This important award represents how powerful creative solutions to public health problems can be developed in partnership with the private sector,”says Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. “We look forward to working with McCann Health to expand The Immunity Charm throughout Afghanistan based on its successes in further testing.”

But what exactly makes this beaded bracelet so special?

It comes down to the practice of immunization. While Western countries with established immunization records bicker over the dangers of vaccines, Afghanistan has one of the lowest vaccination records ever, and the world’s worst infant mortality rate, with 115 children lost out of 1,000 live births.

Afghanistan has been in an ongoing state of war for more than a decade, and poor and rural communities are among the worst affected. Everyday services are inconsistent and difficult to track. Given that most vaccines must be scheduled over the first few years of a child’s life, record-keeping is critical … but they often get lost, or mothers simply stop showing up at the hospital.

That’s where the Immunity Charm comes in. Instead of trying to get moms to hold onto paper hospital records—which are hard to understand and easy to lose—the charm leverages the existing tradition of talismanic bracelets meant to keep evil spirits away from children.

The Immunity Charm can serve this purpose while giving doctors at-a-glance information about a child’s vaccination record. Healthcare workers distribute the inexpensive bracelet—a literal symbol of protection against disease—to mothers when they arrive with newborns. As children get vaccinated for measles, polio, diphtheria and other diseases, more beads appear on the bracelet, each color representing a different vaccination.

“I’m really excited about the Immunity Charm, because it turns culture into incentive, and a bracelet into long lines of mothers and children at vaccine clinics,” says Chairman Peter Singer of United Nations Innovation.

“The power of this idea lies in its ability to intertwine culture and tradition into modern day health needs, add John Cahill, global CEO and Jeremy Perrott, chief creative officer, for McCann Health. “Ensuring vaccination plays a meaningful role in people’s lives.”

The Immunity Charm is being extended for testing to regions both inside and outside Afghanistan. Its promise is a tribute to how science and medicine can work within the parameters of local culture to improve living conditions.

What’s more, it elevates immunization to tradition, creating a storytelling stickiness that can be more effective through generations than mere appointments on a calendar.

“Winning the Grand Prix for Good, the top honor in a festival like Cannes, is really special,” says Prasoon Joshi, chairman of McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific CEO and CCO McCann Worldgroup India. “In the past, I have been fortunate to give this honor to others as Jury chairman … but receiving it is unmatchable. When an idea is seeded into culture and plays a meaningful role in people’s life, the impact and salience is far reaching.”