University of Pretoria: UP academic co-directs documentary on healthcare workers’ fight against COVID-19

Professor Leonie Scholtz, a Professor Extraordinaire at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Radiology, has co-directed a riveting documentary about frontline healthcare workers’ fight against COVID-19.

The film, Fighting Every Day for Everyone’s Tomorrow: Zero to Zero, was co-directed with filmmaker Christa Lategan and photographer Shem Compion, and will be broadcast on DStv Premium on M-Net (Channel 101) on Monday, 4 October at 8:30pm.

Filmed over 15 months, the one-hour documentary provides unprecedented access to the Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital’s (ZAH) frontline healthcare workers and narrates what unfolded during the darkest moments of the pandemic. The documentary, which includes scenes from the ICU, tracks the emotional and physical impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers and tells a story of despair, hope and ultimately the strength of the human spirit.

Prof Scholtz, a part-time filmmaker and radiologist who works at ZAH, saw first-hand what COVID-19 can do to a patient’s lungs. “When the pandemic started, I immediately realised that this is one catastrophic event where no photographers were allowed,” she says in the documentary. “Being a photographer myself, and having access to the inner sanctum of the frontline, I felt obliged to document it.”

She goes on to explain: “Once the cytokine storm sets in, the lungs get affected and we were inundated; we saw CT images of patient’s lungs like we have never seen before. We graded the involvement according to a severity score out of 25. Initially, during the first wave, it was mostly older patients and patients with severe comorbidities, but later younger patients got sick and had to be intubated. We were all severely affected. We could not show our family members or non-medical friends what we were all experiencing.”

The documentary also features interviews with prominent scientists including UP’s Acting Head of Infectious Diseases, Professor Veronica Ueckermann, who is also a part-time consultant and physician at ZAH. She served on the hospital’s COVID-19 Response Committee and acted in an advisory capacity. Specialist physician, Dr Yanila Nyasulu, played a central role in the documentary.

For Prof Scholtz, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “Once enough people are vaccinated, the burden on our ICU staff will disappear. We mainly see unvaccinated patients in ICU currently. Staff are exhausted. One wave after another has hit the hospitals. It has taken a huge physical and emotional toll.”

“What’s special about Zero to Zero is that it is told from the perspectives of those who have been battling this pandemic daily since it began,” says Jan du Plessis, Director for M-Net Channels. “It humanises frontline workers, showing us a fraction of what they have had to face. It also puts faces to some of the COVID-19 stats – there are interviews with former patients about their experiences at the hospital, as well as with their families about the impact that this has had on them.”

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