David Swann

Life-Saving Lullabies


Output: Design

Life-Saving Lullabies (LSL) is the outcome of an enquiry that investigates the potential of lullaby as a novel service intervention to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality in Zambia. The project is led by Swann with co-investigators Dr Jim Reid and Prof. Barry Doyle (University of Huddersfield) who contributed expertise in childhood education and healthcare history.

This 12-month project funded by a UKRI GCRF Urgency Grant (£121k). Set within the context of the United Nations sustainability goals for good health and wellbeing (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5) and the delivery of maternal child heathcare (MCH) in Zambia- recognised as one of the least developed countries on the DAC list of ODA Recipients.

This project extends our knowledge of lullaby into a new cultural and childhood context and restores the cultural heritage of song being the carrier of indigenous knowledge such as survival skills and healthy living. The research is foregrounded by Swann’s developed methodology of subtraction and framed by a decolonised approach to address legitimate design concerns of the affordability, acceptability, sustainability of health and wellbeing interventions. St John Zambia and their Safer Motherhood Action Group volunteers supported the delivery of ethnographic work. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, project intimacy without proximity was maintained to support St John Zambia to deliver focus groups and creative workshops that result in the creation of 31 songs based upon local priorities and needs. Thematically, songs were composed to benefit the health of the baby and importantly, the wellbeing of the new mother. Songs shared knowledge about the health benefits of singing, the importance of family planning, breastfeeding and male involvement, and comforting songs that alleviated mothers' stress, anxiety and grief following the loss of a baby; and coronavirus awareness songs that were produced prior to any official cases recorded in Zambia. A successful twin-centre pilot tested the effectiveness of the intervention within everyday maternal child health practice and engaged 680 direct and indirect beneficiaries in both clinic and community settings. The project's key achievements to date include:

- Ante-natal and under 5s bookings increased following the pilot.

- In the pilot, if had not been for the ‘Danger Signs' song, a volunteer said she could have mistakenly attempted to help a woman deliver at home.

- Mobilisation of civic capital by harnessing the innate creativity of non-professionals to innovate.

- Demonstrates the use of a cultural heritage tool to address global challenges; specifically restoring the traditional practice of indigenous song making that were once a carrier of local knowledge such as survival skills and healthy living (Masoga, 2016).

- The project was presented at the Geneva Health Forum’s Innovation Fair (2020) and at Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project International Convention (2020).

- The Good Design Australia Awards 2020 was strategically used to disseminate the work to an international public audience and received a Best in Class for Social Impact award.

- In 2021, Swann was invited by the AHRC and Praxis to present the team's novel zero-cost approach as part of the Resilience Hub at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow to highlight opportunities for arts-based methods to facilitate and support net zero research.

- The LSL project is to be highlighted in a forthcoming report commissioned by the World Health: How can arts-based practices support relational community engagement processes in lower and middle-income countries? A review.

The Life-Saving Lullaby team comprises of Professor David Swann (PI); Co-investigators Dr James Reid and Professor Barry Doyle from the University of Huddersfield; Morrice Muteba, National-Co-ordinator for St John Zambia and Safer Motherhood Action Group volunteers from Chunga, Kapila, Kayosha and Matero; and Tony Kawimbe and Chloe George from Ufulu Studios.

Research Output

CREDIT: The UKRI GCRF Life-Saving Team comprises of Professor David Swann (PI); Dr James Reid and Professor Barry Doyle (Co-Is), The University of Huddersfield; Morrice Muteba, National co-ordinator St John Zambia; and Tony Kawimbe and Chloe George, Ufulu Studios.

LSL Project Overview


Seleka, Seleka


Due to restrictions, this project does not have a full submission available to view. However, please feel free to check out other projects from this author.

Research Method

Foreground research explored the augmentation of the traditional waxed cotton chitenge as a decolonised intervention to communicate critical health messaging to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths. A workshop and ethnographic work captured the ‘day in the life’ challenges faced by SMAG volunteers from Chunga and Matero.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

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Other Projects By

David Swann