SA film zooms in on frontline workers' racing against time to save lives of Covid patients

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Frontline healthcare workers document their fight against Covid-19 in M-Net’s new documentary, Zero to Zero set for release next month.
Frontline healthcare workers document their fight against Covid-19 in M-Net’s new documentary, Zero to Zero set for release next month.
  • Zero to Zero is a documentary taking viewers inside the Covid-19 wards of a hospital in Pretoria.
  • Patients admitted with the virus and struggling to breathe are documented as healthcare workers rush to save them.
  • The documentary is filmed by one of the hospital's frontline workers.

A new heart-wrenching documentary taking viewers inside a Covid-19 hospital in Pretoria during the peak of the pandemic in South Africa is set to premiere next month.

The documentary, Zero to Zero, is set to broadcast on DStv Premium's M-Net channel on 4 October at 20:30. It follows the staff of Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital (ZAH), a non-profit hospital in Muckleneuk in Pretoria, in action as they race against time to save the lives of patients infected with Covid-19. 

Frontline workers from the over 100-year-old private hospital document the hospital's healthcare workers from the moment they admitted their first Covid-19 patient in June 2020. 

READ | Covid-19: Public hospitals coping, but private facilities under pressure - Kubayi-Ngubane

The short film's release date and time were announced during a briefing hosted by M-Net in collaboration with Multichoice and the Department of Health. 

Health Minister Joe Phaahla attended the briefing along with epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim. 

Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
Brenton Geach/Gallo Images

Phaahla hailed the documentary, saying he hoped it would take the struggles and challenges healthcare workers have faced, and continued to face, in fighting Covid-19 to people's lounges. 


Phaahla added that the documentary also recognises the sacrifices and resilience of health workers during trying times.

He said health workers were not only risking their own lives during the fight, but those of their families too, as documented in the film. 

"On behalf of the Ministry of Health, the department and government, and I believe speaking on behalf of many South Africans, we want to thank you for your efforts in helping us to bring to the reality of ordinary South Africans, what goes on behind the scenes in our health facilities," Phaahla said during the briefing. 

Phaahla said he hoped the documentary could bring hope and mobilise people to play a part in ending the pandemic one day.

He said:

I believe that this documentary will help us to bring hope to all South Africans that we all can do something. There is hope and that if we all play our role, we could relieve the pressure on our very exhausted health workers.

The minister added that he also hoped that the documentary would give people an idea that an end to the pandemic was in individual's hands.

Life inside Covid-19 wards

In the documentary, the hospital's first patient is seen on a bed being assisted by healthcare workers.

In another scene, workers covered with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from head to toe are shedding tears during the rush, and the day a 14-year-old girl is admitted is also shown in the trailer. 

The documentary was filmed for more than 15 months by one of the hospital's frontline workers, radiologist and part-time filmmaker, Professor Leonie Scholtz.

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Scholtz co-produced the film with Christa Lategan and Shem Compion. 

She said cameras were not allowed many times inside hospitals, but as she has experience in filming and was inside the facility, she decided to document the events after getting permission. 

According to Scholtz, they tried showing the public life inside the hospitals and to give people at home an idea of what it is like fighting the pandemic from the frontlines.

To achieve this, the team highlighted and depicted several stories of patients to show the effects of the virus on them and their families.

Scholtz said:

We can hopefully make people aware that [Covid-19 is] not a hoax - it is real, and it is a devastating effect that is surely the most catastrophic event in any medical person's life. But this is not only the story of one hospital. It could have been any hospital, anywhere from Cape Town to Casablanca. And what happened in that hospital happens in any hospital. But people don't know it, because they don't see it.

Why the title?

The idea behind the title Zero to Zero was around documenting the first patient during the first peak and that after three months, the pandemic would have disappeared. 

"We thought the title was very catchy. We wanted to show the first patient, which we also show in the documentary. And we thought we will show the last patient, but we never reached [the] zero patient," Scholtz said.  

Among the frontline workers, who were central figures in the documentary, was specialist physician, Dr Yanila Nyasulu.

"Somewhere, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Let's hope for the dawn to break," Nyasulu says in the film's trailer. 

Speaking during the briefing, Nyasulu said the journey was the most mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausting experience healthcare workers had ever gone through. 

"It takes away so much from us as human beings, physicians, intensivists, and it makes life almost unbearable when we lose one of our patients because we get very attached to most of them," she said. 

She added: "Having the documentary bringing light to what has happened and some of the experiences that we have had is good for the rest of the country to experience a little bit of what we go through on a daily basis."

If you come across Covid-19 vaccination information that you do not trust, read Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here. If you can't find the facts you're looking for, email us at the address mentioned in the article and we will verify the information with medical professionals.

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