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The launch of “Saving Lives: Sisonke” a documentary that chronicles the historic vaccine study rollout in South Africa

SISONKEWhen the world was facing unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic with global vaccine shortages, a project named Sisonke was initiated to provide healthcare workers with a COVID-19 vaccine to protect them in their line of duty. Today a documentary titled "Saving Lives: Sisonke" has been produced and it sheds light on an extraordinary story of resilience, dedication, and ingenuity.

Directed by Ashleigh Hamilton of Infinite Pictures, the film captures the remarkable journey of the largest and fastest vaccine study rollout in the world, saving the lives of half a million healthcare workers living in South Africa.

Sisonke was a groundbreaking initiative led by Professors Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and Linda-Gail Bekker, CEO of Desmond Tutu Health Foundation. The Sisonke project was aimed at addressing the urgent need for a vaccine solution in the country, particularly as healthcare workers faced significant risks without adequate protection.

The documentary “Saving Lives: Sisonke” provides an in-depth look at the Sisonke initiative, highlighting the courage, dedication, and collaboration that made it possible. Through original footage and retrospective interviews with key stakeholders, the film offers a compelling narrative of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

The documentary focuses on the dire situation faced by healthcare workers in South Africa as the pandemic surged. With limited protection and no viable vaccine solution in sight, the need for action was urgent. Professors Gray and Bekker led the charge, spearheading the creation of the Sisonke study—a conscious endeavour to provide essential protection to frontline medical staff.

“This documentary serves as a tribute to the unwavering commitment of our healthcare heroes,” says Prof Gray. “Their bravery and sacrifice during the darkest days of the pandemic will never be forgotten.”

Under extreme time pressure, Professors Gray and Bekker coordinated a historic achievement, implementing the Sisonke study in just 17 days—a feat that would typically take months or even years. The film chronicles the suspenseful journey of this remarkable response to an unprecedented pandemic that affected many lives, showcasing the resilience and dedication of Team Sisonke.

“We wanted to capture the untold story behind the Sisonke study, highlighting the extraordinary efforts of all involved,” says Prof Bekker. “This documentary honours the memory of those who lost their lives in the line of duty and celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.”

“Saving Lives: Sisonke” features original footage from 2021, providing an intimate look at the arrival of the vaccine, the national rollout, and the pivotal moments that defined this historic endeavour. Through retrospective interviews with key role-players, including frontline healthcare workers and researchers, the film offers a compelling narrative of courage and hope.

The documentary is currently being submitted to both local and international film festivals, with plans for broader distribution soon. The goal is to garner accolades and recognition on a global scale, ensuring that the remarkable story of Sisonke reaches audiences worldwide.

For more information about Sisonke, please visit

To watch “Saving Lives: Sisonke” trailers click

For more information, please contact:

Tendani Tsedu
Head of Corporate and Marketing Communications
Cell: 082 945 1980

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