Ventilators: a bridge between life and death

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 21 Apr 2020

Credit: Samuel Granados and Kate Kelland

Project description:

Ventilators are mechanical breathing devices that use pressure to blow air – or a mixture of gases such as oxygen and air – into the lungs. They are crucial for people with impending lung failure, one of the complications suffered by patients with severe cases of COVID-19.


During the early days of the pandemic there were ventilator shortages and discussions on alternatives, ventilator-sharing and emergency measures. Reuters took a closer look at these machines and measures in the context of COVID-19 and the ways it affects the lungs and body.

Impact reached:

As alternative therapies have emerged the focus on long-term ventilation has shifted, this piece arrived at a critical moment of the pandemic and shed light on the risks and benefits these machines offered.

Techniques/technologies used:

Medical illustrations were hand drawn. Using Adobe Illustrator they were coupled with HTML, CSS and javascript for scroll interactions to result in a smooth engaging exploration of complex science.  

What was the hardest part of this project?

Nailing the precise scientific details and presenting them in an engaging illustrative way was a challenge. Studies of the interactions of COVID-19 patients on ventilators did not yet exist explaining how the disease attacks the lungs and body, and how ventilators work involved synthesizing disparate lines of research into a cohesive narrative. 

What can others learn from this project?

Process journalism is data-journalism. Understanding how a process works can be critical to making informed decisions, in this case on the efficacy and potential need for a technology. We, as data-journalists, tend to focus on the outcomes, what do the numbers say, but sometimes the process that results in those outcomes are of equal value. 

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