Township ER

5 doctors, 5 cultures, 30 hours

Township ER Public healthcare in South Africa is approaching crisis. Hospitals are underfunded and overcrowded and there is a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses. Township ER profiles five doctors, from five different cultures, on call at Ngwelezana hospital. Over a 30 -hour shift, they treat all manner of ailments, from routine appendicitis to life-threatening gunshot wounds. Showcasing the dedication and expertise of these men and women, Township ER presents an unfiltered picture of the challenges facing South Africa’s doctors today. None
“So we’re off to RU, there is a patient that has been shot in the abdomen. He is unstable, probably needs an operation. We’re going to go have a look and see what’s up.” Dr. Rasen, a medical officer in the surgery department at Ngwelezane Hospital, has been on call for over twelve hours. He has already seen countless victims of violence. His latest patient has been shot in the stomach and is in a critical condition. After performing an initial surgery to determine the extent of the damage, Rasen is relieved to find that the bullet has not done irreparable harm to the man’s small bowel. “Would you believe how lucky this dude is?”

Ngwelezane Hospital serves the Uthungulu, Umkhanyakude and Zululand districts of South Africa, some of the poorest in the country. Over the course of their thirty-hour shift, Rasen and his fellow doctors treat patients suffering from conditions and ailments ranging from knife wounds inflicted by a love rival, to cardiac arrest and traumatic brain injury. “There’s a lot of medical dramas on TV”, says Dr. Laurens Wahl, a second-year medical intern, “I don’t think it’s always on par as to what really happens in South African hospitals.”

The doctors treat the patients at Ngwelezane despite being overworked, under resourced and practising in a country with one of the most diverse populations and complex disease profiles in the world. For Dr. Ganya, a first-year medical intern, it is a constant struggle to adequately serve the community. “The result of all these shortages is we end up not giving the best health care we can, we end up giving a sub-service basically even though we are trying really hard to do our best.” For Dr. Ngema, a medical officer in the Orthopaedics Department, the harsh realities of being a doctor in South Africa can occasionally be overwhelming. “Sometimes you’re like I don’t know if I wanted to know there’s so much violence in the world for nothing.”

Yet despite coming from a range of backgrounds, all the doctors on shift at Ngwelezane share a profound sense of obligation to each other and their communities. “I just consider myself as part of a team, as part of a team really, that’s trying to make something right in our country”, says Ngema. Ganya is similarly motivated. “I want to be a doctor mostly to give back to the community and the country”.

LaurelJozi Film Festival - Best South African Feature Documentary
LaurelSAFTAs - Best Cinematography for a Feature Documentary

The Producers

Francois Wahl - Director/Producer

A chartered accountant by training, Francois Wahl fosters a passion for filmmaking. Many of his family members, including his wife, brother and father, are in the medical profession, and he created the film with the intention of bringing to light the unsustainable intensity of this profession.

Making The Film

Following 5 different doctors for 30 hours each took its toll on the whole crew... from directors falling asleep, to the cinematographer becoming nauseous, and the audiologist fainting at the sight of blood. The transcribers converted audio to 750 pages of text. The director painstakingly created a script of 120 pages. The editor worked through 75 hours of footage to bring you the most interesting moments from patients in the rural hospitals. Raising finances was even tougher. The film was crowdfunded by doctors in South Africa, so this truly is a film made for doctors by doctors, who have praised its accuracy.

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