South Africa's government health department came under fire for a lack of transparency when CNN broadcasted the turmoil behind the scenes as the Delta variant wreaked havoc. Through M-Net's Zero to Zero documentary, we can finally watch an extended account of life inside our hospitals during Covid-19.
The documentary tracks the lives of healthcare workers and patients in South Africa throughout the pandemic, documenting the triumphs and trauma inside one hospital.
The scenes were filmed inside a private hospital, the 100-year-old Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital in Pretoria. Therefore, government hospitals cannot be evaluated based on the footage, but it offers some insight into how well-equipped healthcare workers deal with the task at hand.
Private and public healthcare workers alike have been tremendously strained throughout the course of the pandemic. This was unavoidable to an extent, but it should be remembered that they were meant to benefit most from the hard lockdown which South Africa entered in late March 2020.
It is healthcare workers and not the government who are the true heroes of this story. Specialist physician Dr. Yanila Nyasulu plays a starring role while the highs and lows of the emotionally charged hospital environment during Covid-19 are portrayed in great detail.
This documentary is an example of why it is important that healthcare workers are not shut off from media access, as the conditions under which they work tell us plenty about the effectiveness of government policy. This, despite the fact that Zero to Zero is primarily a story about the lives of healthcare workers, told by themselves and the government is not the main focus.
Speaking recently to the media at the launch of Zero to Zero, Senior Manager for M-Net Local Productions Kaye-Ann Williams pointed out that it is difficult to make time for media interaction for professionals whose primary preoccupation is saving lives.
However, there is another side to the story – the media themselves can play a vital role in saving lives by raising awareness and holding private and state institutions to account.
This is why it was important that Health Minister Joe Phaahla and Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee Chair Professor Salim Abdool Karim availed themselves to answer questions from the media at the launch.
Critics have argued that while the lockdown came at great cost, it did not have a significant enough long-term benefit.
Phaahla and Karim dispute this, with the latter telling reporters: "Because our first wave peak only hit us in July, we had bought about eight or nine – maybe up to 10 weeks. In that time, it was quite amazing to see what was done.
"I'll give you a simple example – if you asked me in February last year: 'Can you take the Cape Town [International] Convention Centre and convert it into an 800-bed hospital with oxygen at every bed and a 20-bed ICU?' You would have said to me that you could do that in five or six years. They did it in six weeks. That, for me, was amazing.
"By the time we got to our second and third waves, we now knew better how to deal with this pandemic. We didn't have to use a sledgehammer – we could be more refined."
Apart from giving the public a glimpse into the conditions under which healthcare workers operate, Zero to Zero could also be groundbreaking in terms of encouraging citizens to get vaccinated.
Greater empathy with healthcare workers is certainly needed at times and one of the best ways to show support is to get the vaccine.
- Zero to Zero premieres on M-Net (DStv Channel 101) on Monday 4 October at 8.30pm