The cast of 18 Hours at the films’ premiere | picture courtesy of KenyaBuzz
by Nyambura Muroki
On the 9th of October, 2015, Alex Madaga succumbed to head injuries sustained after a hit and run accident the previous day on his way home from his job as a security worker. His death caused a stir in the country because unlike many accident victims, he was driven around Nairobi in an ambulance for 18 hours looking for ICU bed space. 18 hours! This means that after the accident on the 8th of October at around 8pm, he only got the medical attention he needed at the Kenyatta National Hospital at 1pm the next day- after not being attended to at 4 hospitals. He passed away less than an hour after being admitted. Brian Ochieng, the paramedic who had been at his side throughout recounted his experience in an interview saying that he was stable at the scene of the accident and knew he would have survived had he received the critical care he needed on time.
I remember reading his story a month into medical school and feeling dejected, wondering how this was the system I had just signed up to be a part of. The callousness of the whole situation, the lack of positive regard, the greed and thoughtlessness of every service provider that turned Alex and his pleading wife, Jessica, away threw me off. I had joined med school with the mind that this was the place to be if I wanted to change the world with a bunch of like-minded humanists. There have been several blows to these high (almost naïve) expectations but I remember this as the first and hardest hitting one.
The audacity of Kevin Njue and his team to make the 18 Hours movie out of this story is a huge boost for the film industry in Kenya. How many real-life experiences do you hear about everyday and think: “Wow! This would make a great movie?”. The power of storytelling cannot be undermined!
I attended the premiere of the movie last Friday, the 10th of October, at Planet Media Cinemas in Prestige Plaza. It was surreal. Chapter One, led by Irungu Houghton, Rocque Movies and Emergency Medicine Kenya Foundation put together a wonderful evening. David Rudisha agreed to take part in an emergency stunt aimed at publicizing the need for an emergency care system that works. After welcoming him at the venue, we proceeded to watch the 70 minute film.
The film gives a detailed account of the events that led to the untimely death of Alex Madaga. More importantly, it highlights the state of emergency care in our country; How our default response to ambulance sirens on the road is to think that it is a false alarm and the occupants are probably just trying to maneuver through the horrible traffic like all of us. It is difficult to imagine the life of a paramedic until you have watched 18 Hours. Like many health workers, paramedics deserve every good thing this life has to offer for the difficult and many times thankless work they do.
Alex Madaga’s death was not in vain. His story represents the story of many casual workers. The movie got me thinking of all the bodaboda riders, watu wa mjengo and hawkers who despite working in high-risk environments, cannot afford NHIF, let alone private insurance. It is inhumane to expect a casual security worker to pay 200,000 shillings upfront for critical care. Parliament passed the Health Act 2017, giving all Kenyans a right to emergency care. Any health facility that denies emergency medical treatment is liable to conviction in a court of law.
Although great strides are being made by all stakeholders, we must all do more! As it stands, one in ten of us will die in an emergency. How prepared are you for a road accident, fire or even an earthquake? Do you know any toll free emergency hotlines by heart? Are you and your loved ones insured? How can you get involved in agitating for more ICU bed space in our public hospitals?
The one thing I could not stop thinking about after the movie is how unbearably slow the journey to each hospital must have been for Jessica, how much she detested everyone who cared more about reaching their destination than the fact that her world was crumbling before her eyes at that very moment. I am committing to always always move out of the way. Someone’s life depends on it.
If you haven’t watched 18 Hours, The Arena us giving away 3 tickets today across it’s social media platforms! Please check our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for details. You can also catch the film all of this week in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. If you have watched it, we would love to hear what your thoughts were and the biggest lesson you took away from it.
Nyambura Muroki is a professional question asker and an upcoming health practitioner. She envisions a world in which young people are engaged meaningfully in change. Nyambura is also the Partnerships and Networks Coordinator for The Arena Kenya.