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World Health Day: 10 Must-Watch Documentaries

Nigeria’s fake doctors, Rachel’s HIV revolution, and MS in Egypt – here are our documentary picks for World Health Day.

What is it like to live with multiple sclerosis in Egypt? Who are the townspeople at the heart of the opioid crisis of the United States? How are doctors battling rabies in the Philippines? And with one in four people suffering from a mental illness, will they all get the care and treatment they need?

From health heroes working to eradicate kala-azar to the scammers making money in Colombia’s cosmetic surgery trade, here are Al Jazeera’s documentary picks for World Health Day, and every day.

Mental Illness: Breaking the Silence


Al Jazeera’s Victoria Baux has spent most of her life abroad.

She wonders whether her travels were a way of dealing with a difficult family problem. Her mother, Ann, was diagnosed with depression at the age of 39. But she had been unwell for a long time before that and her illness had taken a heavy toll on the entire family.

Victoria also has friends who suffer from some form of mental illness. And she recently discovered that many people she has met have also struggled with it, often without her even noticing.

This motivated her to embark on a journey: she wanted to learn about the best ways to help those suffering from mental illnesses, as well as their families and friends, who shoulder so much of the burden. In doing so, she hopes to make peace with her own family history – and her mother.

Living with Multiple Sclerosis in Egypt


There are more than 2.3 million people globally who suffer from multiple sclerosis, or MS, an auto-immune disorder in which the body seemingly attacks itself. Researchers believe that MS causes the body’s immune system to attack myelin, an insulating coating around the nerve cells.

MS is more common in northern, cooler countries but now there are 120,000 registered sufferers in Egypt, who face a number of particular challenges. The condition can often be wrongly diagnosed and they are often unable to afford proper treatment or obtain the necessary medical, social, emotional or psychological support.

Al Jazeera World’s Living with MS in Egypt follows a number of sufferers as they face up to these challenges in a society where their neurological condition is often poorly understood and inadequately treated.

Nigeria’s Fake Doctors


Take a drive through any city or large town in Nigeria and the chances are you will come across numerous privately-owned health clinics, doctor’s surgeries and hospitals.

They are so widespread because Nigeria’s state-run health system is chronically underfunded and so overstretched that it simply cannot meet all the demands made on it. Private medicine fills the gap.

But while there are many legitimate private health providers, there are many more that are completely bogus; unaccredited, unregulated quack doctors – con artists and criminal scammers for the most part – who ruthlessly exploit the credulity, ignorance and desperation of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

Indeed they are so prolific that a 2014 survey carried out in Nigeria found that more than 50 percent of the population had received treatment from the quacks at one time or another – even people with very serious diseases such as typhoid and malaria.

In this 2014 Africa Investigates documentary, two journalists go undercover to delve into the disturbing world of West Africa’s quacks.

Blood and Dust: Across Afghanistan with US Army Paramedics


In October 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, the US and NATO went to war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In early 2011, the war was still in full swing, with neither side disposed to show the other much quarter.

As a result, every day added to the numbers of combatants and civilians being wounded or killed in the conflict – many of them in remote communities cut off from emergency medical facilities or in exposed positions right on the front line.

Few people understood what this meant in practice better than the medevac personnel, who were helicoptering out across the country to pick up casualties and often coming under fire themselves.

Veteran cameraman Vaughan Smith embedded with the paramedics of the US Army’s 214th Aviation Regiment and his footage was made into Blood and Dust, a much-acclaimed episode of People & Power, which reveals both the shocking reality of war and the remarkable even-handedness of those providing care.

From Nepal to Indonesia: The Gift of Sight


Nepal‘s Himalayan mountain range is one of the most picturesque places in the world. But its stunning beauty is fading from view for many of the villagers who call the region home. Exposure to ultraviolet rays at such high altitudes is causing many to lose their sight.

Ophthalmologist Dr Sanduk Ruit has made it his life mission to bring sight to everyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. Known in Nepal as the “God of Sight”, Ruit has helped more than 100,000 people blinded by cataracts see again. He takes an Indonesian doctor under his tutelage to bring the gift of sight to the world’s destitute.

From Nepal to Indonesia, in this 2014 101 East film, we visit communities paralysed by preventable blindness and meet the doctors whose mission is to restore sight and, more importantly, hope.

Heroin’s Children


The US is going through the worst drug crisis in its history. In the last decade, heroin abuse has skyrocketed, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

As President Donald Trump declared the country’s opioid crisis a “national emergency”, Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines looks at the “invisible victims” of the epidemic – a generation of children who are being neglected, abandoned or orphaned by parents addicted to heroin.

They travel to Chillicothe, a small Ohio town at the centre of the drug crisis, to meet a teenager who lost both her parents to drugs, a mother whose heroin addiction led her to overdose in front of her young son, a grandmother unexpectedly raising four granddaughters, pregnant women struggling with addiction, and police and firefighters responding to harrowing overdose scenes.

Finding a Cure for Kala Azar


Research and development for new medicines is costly, time-consuming and almost always profit driven.

So when a disease affects only the poor, that market is neglected, often meaning no new medicines.

But that is changing for one such neglected tropical disease: kala-azar, or visceral leishmaniasis. It is the world’s second-largest parasitic killer after malaria, killing 40,000 people every year, but Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and four pharmaceutical firms have announced the start of a ground-breaking initiative to accelerate and cut the costs of early-stage drug discovery for kala-azar and another neglected disorder called Chagas’ disease.

Al Jazeera’s The Cure travels to Japan, Switzerland and Ethiopia to explore how big pharmaceuticals are being mobilised in an unprecedented global initiative to find and fast-track a cure for kala-azar. 

Rachel’s HIV Revolution


Rachel is an HIV-positive mother whose goal it is to educate pregnant women in Burkina Faso so that they will not pass on the virus to their children.

One of the main obstacles is the problem of social exclusion of these HIV-positive women. In this culture, HIV infection is considered by many to be a woman’s problem. They need to make sure that their babies are not infected, but by taking the HIV test they worry that their community will learn about their illness and eventually ostracise them.

Rachel realises that raising awareness in the clinics of the capital is no longer enough. In this 2016 Witness film, we follow Rachel as she extends her fight to the remote area on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, where the level of education is much lower and therefore the women face a higher level of discrimination.

Island by Island: Battling Rabies in the Philippines


NOTE: This film contains disturbing scenes of death by rabies and of animal post-mortems that some viewers may find upsetting. This film is not suitable for children.

Every Monday morning, up to 700 dog-bite victims, mainly children, crowd Manila’s San Lazora Hospital. Because the Philippines is a rabies-endemic country, everyone who is bitten needs Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), a series of injections to prevent them from getting rabies.

Doctors like Betsy Miranda are tackling rabies with a multipronged approach, including extensive dog vaccinations, education and providing timely vaccinations for bite victims.

In 2014, Lifelines went to the Philippines to meet the people on the front line of battling rabies.

Colombia: Under the Knife


Colombia has one of the busiest and most profitable cosmetic surgery industries in the world.

In 2015, Colombians and foreigners signed up to over a third of a million procedures, with liposuction and breast implants being the most popular choices.

Most cosmetic procedures in Colombia are carried out by qualified surgical specialists – but some are not. Patients can be put at risk of horrible complications – disfigurement, disability and in some cases even death – at the hands of unqualified doctors.

Al Jazeera’s Latin America Investigates examines the backstreet cosmetic surgery trade leaving some patients scarred for life.


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