Filmmakers document dedication to eradicate disease in Africa and beyond


A large proportion of the people on this planet suffer the diseases and
conditions of poverty, and to a large extent these remain unseen by developed

With this in mind, award-winning South African documentary filmmaker Cliff
Bestall came up with the concept to tell the stories of inspiring people on the
frontline of public health in remote and war-torn areas. With little assistance,
these “miracle workers’ show extraordinary will to overcome the diseases that
sustain and deepen poverty.

The idea, was taken forward by producer Steven Markowitz, Bestall and his
medical doctor / epidemiologist wife Michele Youngleson, along with a second
team consisting of director Brian Tilley and cameraman Tim Wege. They travelled
to the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, Cameroon,
Ethiopia, Malawi and South Sudan and to the people on the frontline of public

In an eight-part documentary series for Al Jazeera English called Lifelines, the
filmmakers captured the stories of dramatic breakthroughs against diseases and
conditions, such as rabies, polio, leprosy, malaria, schistosomiasis (bilharzia),
guinea worm, river blindness, trachoma and maternal mortality.
The team found that polio and Guinea worm are close to being eradicated, while
huge inroads are being made into eliminating rabies, river blindness and

Maternal mortality is decreasing while malaria and schistosomiasis continue to
challenge the enormous efforts made to bring them under control.

“We are confronted with something that can be changed, and that change has
not been fully acknowledged,’ says Bestall. “For example, 50% less children die
of malaria than they did a decade ago, the number of people who suffer terrible
Guinea worm infection has been brought down with 99.9% – from three and a
half million a year to just 126 last year, polio is close to being eradicated like
smallpox once was.

“The numbers are dropping and will continue to fall as long as funds are
available and the energy to keep multiple campaigns going is maintained.’
Bestall continues: “It was really only when Brian, Michele and I were in the
various locations where we were shooting and meeting people that it became
evident who these heroes were.’

They were the people in the engine room – the men and women, some paid,
some on a volunteer basis – who did the hard work behind the scenes. “Some
had come up with great yet simple innovations. Some were influencers who
could inspire others that diseases can be controlled or even eliminated within
communities,’ says Bestall.

Although there are many others behind the push to reduce the burden of
infectious diseases among neglected people, Bestall emphasises that: “our
focus was on the little guys this time.’

Each film had an average of 18 days shooting allocated with Bestall filming on a
Canon C300 while cameraman Wege used a Sony PMW 220.

The filmmakers were at pains to ensure that they approached the issues
journalistically and, as in the case of diseases or other conditions which afflict
people, the story became more complex the deeper they were investigated.

“Our approach turned out to be far more rewarding and challenging as we
hunted for stories that evidenced change, and struggle to achieve that change,’
concludes Bestall.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here