UnMasked tells the story of three young South African doctors who contract multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB). These women endured years of harrowing side effects caused by the MDR TB treatment and narrowly escape death from a disease that is as old as the plague. This documentary follows these brave, resilient women as they claw their way up from the depths of despair to create new lives for themselves.

These doctors-turned-patients don’t fit the bill of the average TB patient so often seen on TV: a person who is older, poor or someone who is HIV-positive. Instead, these doctors are healthy, young and ambitious and in the process of falling in love with their job or their significant other. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they are hit with this devastating diagnosis. 

Zolelwa, Arlette and Dalene spend months enduring the grueling treatment, taking dozens of pills and capsules. Every day they receive injections so painful that Zolelwa describes them as feeling like they are “being injected with hot lava.” And still, after all of this medication, there is a 60% chance they will die.

The dark truth is that doctors and healthcare workers in South Africa are six times more likely to contract this disease than the public at large. In this moving film, our three central characters open their homes and lives in order to advocate for better treatment and diagnostics care for all TB patients. Their voices join that of South Africa’s Health Minister, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, who has been instrumental in the fight to get the world to take the threat of TB seriously. 

This inspiring film follows Zolelwa, Arlette and Dalene as they turn this harrowing experience into a positive, by informing others about the world’s number 1 infectious killer. They bravely share their stories because they want to change perceptions and ultimately to save lives.

UnMasked takes the mask off, removing the stigma and debunking the stereotypes in order to unveil the truth about TB: WE ALL BREATHE, SO WE ARE ALL VULNERABLE TO TB.

Category: Documentary
Duration: 38 minutes
Locations: USA and South Africa

Narrated by: Silas Lekgosthi
Written by: Janet Tobias, Emmy® award-winning executive Directed by: Ashleigh Hamilton and Emma Watts

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Zolelwa Sifumba

Zolelwa says her battle with TB makes her a better doctor, someone who can relate to her patients and say that she too survived TB; that anyone can get TB. On the global stage, she evolves as an energetic voice and force for raising awareness.

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Arlette Bekker

Arlette says the person she was “before TB will never be again. That person died.” But she is now getting back to work and she is going on rounds, making good decisions and is being the best surgeon she can be.

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Dalene Von Delft

For Dalene, a mother, an activist, global speaker, it’s about the impact and supporting lives across the world through her non-profit organisation, TB Proof, in hope that in 20 years’ time she can tell her children that TB is one less thing they have to worry about.

Photos by: Nicky Newman