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With the coronavirus still at the forefront of many people’s minds, books, films, and podcasts on pandemics and infectious diseases have become a popular way to better understand the COVID-19 pandemic.
Documentaries can help educate us on the science and politics related to infectious diseases, by exploring historical cases of struggle and triumph amid global pandemics. Many of these films point to how these deadly viruses can start, what we can do in the fight to contain the current coronavirus, and what we must do in order to limit future pandemics.
Here are ten documentaries on pandemics and infectious diseases:
1. Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak
The 6-part Netflix docuseries began streaming January 2020—and a few months later the whole world was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Filmed in 2019, the series follows doctors and researchers on the front-line of infectious disease and pandemic research. In interviews throughout the series, experts noted how the next deadly global pandemic, in particular a new respiratory virus, was right around the corner, and they were eerily correct. Watch the trailer here.
2. How to Stop the Next Pandemic
The new 14-minute New York Times documentary explores why pandemics happen and what we can do to stop them. The coronavirus is just part of a new trend across the world according to the documentary. New pathogens that may lead to pandemics are on the rise and are connected to human activities. Watch the full documentary here.
3. Unseen Enemy
Unseen Enemy explores novel 21st-century epidemics including Ebola, influenza, and Zika. Traveling across the globe, the film follows doctors, disease detectives, and ordinary people who survived deadly epidemics that ravaged human bodies and exacerbated economic inequalities. The CNN documentary exposes the poor national and international responses to these viruses, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Watch the trailer here.
4. Anatomy of a Pandemic
The PBS NewsHour’s documentary looks at the science and policy of the 2009 swine flu outbreak and how the government tried to prepared for the next big threat. The film reveals lessons from the swine flu outbreak that can inform how the U.S. and other world governments should respond when faced with any widespread health emergency. Watch the full documentary here.
5. How to Survive a Plague
Source: IFC Films/Youtube
This documentary about the AIDS epidemic follows the story of the grassroots activists in the 80s and 90s who challenged government officials on their lack of scientific research into the HIV transmission. The film focuses on the politics behind AIDS treatment during a critical moment in the history of American civil rights and medical science. Watch the trailer here.
6. Influenza 1918
The PBS American Experience feature explores one of the worst pandemics in the world’s history. The virus overwhelmed hospitals killing over 600,000 Americans and nearly 500 million worldwide. Watch the full documentary here.
The Discovery Channel documentary spotlights the mosquito which is responsible for deadly viruses like Zika, chikungunya, West Nile, dengue, and malaria. The documentary explains why the mosquito is “the most dangerous animal in the world,” showing how these vectors are spreading viruses at unprecedented rates due to increased human travel. Watch the full documentary here.
8. Spillover – Zika, Ebola & Beyond
Spillover — Zika, Ebola & Beyond follows scientists into some of the biggest health crises of our time. While exploring the science behind the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, the documentary provides an inside account of the untold stories of the health workers and survivors facing deadly viruses. Interviews with public health experts and epidemiologists reveal how human behaviors can increase the likelihood of spillover events that could lead to global pandemics. Watch the full documentary here.
9. The Coming Pandemic
Source: Journeyman Pictures/Youtube
In 2005, this documentary warned of the potential for a major epidemic that would kill millions of people. They believed it would be a mutation of the influenza virus that would kill humans and birds in Asia before overwhelming unprepared governments around the world. The Coming Pandemic eerily predicted the H1N1 virus as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch the documentary through Amazon Prime.
10. Hero with a Thousand Faces
Hero with a Thousand Faces chronicles the fight against each of the deadliest viruses of our time, the Ebola virus. Around 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths were reported in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Filmed in Sierra Leone, the documentary highlights the medical workers and volunteers who risked their lives to try and contain the virus. Watch the documentary through Amazon Prime.
Other fictional films about pandemics:
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