Documentary Films and Health – Can we really afford to Mind the Gap?

Dr Kunal Patel 04 Oct 2018

Photograph Courtesy of Hulu

A couple of weeks ago I was very fortunate to have been invited to the Irish Film Institute’s Documentary Film Festival opening. Sure, you usually expect arty types to dominate and express their opinion, but to my surprise and rightfully so, a film did all the talking.

The opening night was based around the screening of Minding the Gap, a documentary by Bing Liu. The film having been filmed on various cameras over a number of years, follows friends and family of Bing’s in the city of Rockford, Illinois. It is rare to see a film stun an entire audience and then get them talking about it constantly during a reception and for days afterwards. I went straight on to the old twit-space) to express my thoughts. These focused on the how the film masterfully highlights the growing social disparity within the US, but as you take a pause and realize, much of the globe. The US, has for many years had prominent issues surrounding race, sex, abuse, and social justice that have not come close to being improved on and this film highlights it all.

Subtle editing contrasted by silent imagery of private companies and local non-profits offering healthcare all the way to social support during the film, show how a market has developed around helping others. This is particularly the case around healthcare and health access. If the individuals in the film were within a health and social care system that did not place a financial burden on themselves and worked to address abuse within families and racism, what and where would they be as adults today? Compounded by a failing economy in parts of the US, amplifying the effects of a widening wealth gap and increased poverty, which is a strong risk factor for health and social mobility, do the protagonists of the film stand a chance as they get older? The director allows the viewer to decide through some very thoughtful film making.

However, for me, the film not only brings a focus to the above, but re-iterates the dire need for communities in the US and abroad to have access to good health care and social support from the moment they are born, without a financial burden on themselves. These are the principles of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), which many of us in health and health education are hoping to achieve, globally. Recent research has shown that the life expectancy of the wealthiest Americans now exceeds that of the poorest by 10–15 years. Additionally, with the current economic climate and rising health and social care premiums, wage gains have been undermined and driven many households into debt and even bankruptcy. One element of UHC is the continued training of health workers, improving their numbers but also their skills. You can have the best, cheapest drugs, the best financial aid, social care theory, counselling methods and therapies in the world but if you do not have the workers to deliver this, there is simply no point.

We are striving to better training and the provision of health workers across the globe, promoting collaboration between these health workers using interprofessional methods Many others are doing the same, however, governments need to do more and improved access to health services are a must, in the US and beyond. Minding the Gap is a film for all to see, highlighting stories of sadness and poor social access that are replicable across the world. If we had more services and workers to deliver them, just maybe, those in the film would not just be healthy, mentally and physically, but just happy and optimistic.