Review: “EXPOSED” Film Series by Aeras

EXPOSED: The Race Against Tuberculosis (video review)

This post was written together with Niniola Soleye.

EXPOSED: The Race Against Tuberculosis is a series of four short films (about ten minutes each) about the global epidemic of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB). The series was produced by Aeras, a biotech company working toward a tuberculosis vaccine. It features personal stories from patients, as well as commentary from physicians, researchers, policymakers, and experts around the world.

The global health community has seen TB morph from a death sentence to a treatable disease with antibiotics to an increasingly drug-resistant (and persistent) monster – thus completing the cycle and essentially bringing it back to a death sentence in the case of XDR-TB. Even more terrifying is the emergence of totally drug-resistant TB (that’s TDR-TB) in Iran, India, and Western Europe.

From testing and treatment costs to lost wages and productivity costs, TB, especially DR-TB, is also a very expensive disease. The first video, which features a woman from Tennessee, really drives the point home. She went on a short mission trip with her church to South Africa, where she contracted a strain of TB that was resistant to seven drugs, and wound up in isolation for two years. The total treatment course cost the health department over $1 million – a case in point of how the uninformed desire to “do something” can do more harm than good.

The purpose of the video series, in addition to raising awareness about drug-resistant tuberculosis, is to build support for Aeras’s mission to develop a TB vaccine. Currently, there is no effective vaccine against the most infectious form of tuberculosis, pulmonary TB. The BCG vaccine which was developed 90 years ago does not prevent the majority of TB cases. While the movies play to the emotional side to a certain extent, and I wasn’t crazy about the fact that they opened the series with a profile of a Westerner who “just wanted to help,” I felt that the series did an overall good job of giving voice to individuals in the developing world who are most immediately affected by the disease – both a survivor of treatment and a woman who is volunteering in a clinical trial for a vaccine candidate.

You can watch the films here.

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