In Britain, the free, comprehensive public health system – known as the National Health Service (NHS) – has long been a source of pride for citizens of all political persuasions.
But it was already reeling from years of neglect and funding cuts and, as COVID coursed through the country, it teetered on the verge of collapse – exacerbated by a fumbling government response that led to the highest death toll in Europe.
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Dr Mohammed Abbas Khaki could have been among that toll.
The young general practitioner from north London caught COVID-19 while working on the frontlines in early 2021 – shortly after production was completed on this documentary – and he thankfully went on to make a full recovery.
He was, sadly, just one of the many NHS workers from ethnic minority backgrounds who have been stricken by the virus.
It had emerged pretty early on in the pandemic that ethnic minority communities were disproportionately affected by coronavirus – both among the general public and the medical profession.
A shocking 94 percent of NHS doctors and 71 percent of nurses who died from the virus belong to minority groups, while they comprise only about 20 percent of the staff, including 40 percent of medical staff, according to a study published at the peak of the first wave in April.
When “Dr Mo” fell ill, it served as a reality check for him and the filmmaking team. And it brought our core question into sharper focus: What does the tragedy of the pandemic teach us about social justice and economic inequality in Britain today?
As a right-wing government tightens migration laws in the aftermath of Brexit, the COVID crisis has catalysed fierce debate over the status of key workers who keep the country running. Dr Mo himself is the son of a Gujarati-Tanzanian pharmacist who migrated to the UK in 1968, studied at university, started a business and raised several children who now dedicate their lives to public health.
During a long summer lockdown, the viral “Clap for Carers” movement saw millions applaud the NHS in towns and cities across the land. But many of the same people backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lead Britain out of the European Union – a populist policy that has divided the nation and crushed any hope of a swift post-COVID economic recovery.
That potent contradiction is the nexus of our film, which tells Dr Mo’s inspiring personal story of faith and service with the aim of painting a picture of life in the UK at such a crucial moment for the country.
A film by: Ana González & Frederick Bernas
Editor: Ala Alhussan
Producer: Ala Alhussan
Executive Producer: Andrew Phillips
An Eye Rise Films production for Al Jazeera Close Up
With thanks to the Who Is Hussain Foundation.