When we heard that Kenya’s biggest film of 2017 was having its premier at the end of the year, there was a lot of excitement and build up to the day. I wrote about it in a previous blog, and true to its word, the film lived up to its expectation. On the 10th of November 2017, Kenyan film enthusiasts were treated to their very first sights of a Kenyan story as told by Kenyan film makers. This screening was sold out, and the several other screenings at cinemas were very well received.

Take a look in the mirror: Reflections of our nation’s medical systems

It is one thing to be part of the cast of an award winning film, to animate a character, and to ‘nail’ all your lines on set… it is however a whole different experience to be seated on the other side of the camera, watching your character come to life in a film. 18 hours is one of the best scripted films ever borne out of our country. The film starts out with the ambulance trying to make its way through the busy traffic of Nairobi roads on an early morning, with your ‘typical’ Kenyan motorists not giving way. It was quite dramatic, and nerve wrenching, having to see the plight of the ambulance driver making frantic efforts to implore motorists to give way… something that should ideally go without saying.

A scene from 18 hours film, depicting Alex getting emergency attention in an ambulance

If you thought the typical bureaucracies associated with security guards at receptions of public institutions was an obstacle to service delivery, 18 hours takes it to a whole new level! The film depicts an indifferent guard, literally sleeping on the job, who then wakes up to further delay the admission of the ambulance to a hospital’s premise. We not only need to change our assets and facilities in the medical sector, we also need to transform our intrinsic human values. We need to be ‘Kenyan’ yet again… the innovative kind, the compassionate, the problem solving kind. We need to give a change to the sick and in need of help, we need to give another chance to life.

A call for policy shifts, a cry for tangible change

The film gets even the ‘toughest’ of men to have tears at the doorway of their eyes. The emotional roller-coaster throughout the film is unmatched, with the film’s soundtrack acting as some kind of catalyst to your tear glands. In the unending episodes of drama and tragedy, at some point the lead paramedic gets a nurse to agree to a ‘refill’ for an oxygen tank. Being quite an essential piece of equipment in stabilizing the patient, it was quite disheartening for it to be found incompatible to the Ambulance’s systems.

The film 18 hours isn’t at all shy to call out ‘private hospitals’ for treating human lives and well being as ‘someone’s business‘. In my role as a doctor in the film, the character refuses admission to the patient citing the compulsory need to pay a ‘deposit’ of 100,000 shillings beforehand.

In the end, every life matters. Everyone deserves an equal chance to live. It is time for our policy makers and all stake holders in the medical sector to have a change in policy, so as to accord every Kenyan access to affordable universal healthcare. It was quite sad to come to terms with the unfortunate death of the patient, no matter how many times his story has been told. He didn’t deserve to die.

Catch the film in its next screening in a cinema near you.