CENTRESTAGE: Emotional ‘18 hours’ hits cinemas

Saturday November 18 2017

Brain Ochieng (far right) the paramedic who

Brain Ochieng (far right) the paramedic who attended to the late Alex Madaga poses with the lead actors in the movie (from left) Brian Ogola, Sue Wanjiru and Nick Ndeda. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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Zach works for Raven paramedics services. His job is to handle emergency cases. An emergency call comes in from a witness about a car accident that has happened along Highway 89. A pedestrian has been involved in a high speed hit and run while on his way home from work.

Assigned as head of the rescue, Zach and his driver, Mark, dash out of their base and in about 20 minutes, they arrive at the scene. The casualty, whose face is deliberately hidden till the end of the film, is bleeding from the head and not moving. Zach and Mark get the road accident victim into their ambulance and soon after, they are on their way to hospital. Joined by Sabina, they each take turns watching over the casualty as they ensure he has sufficient oxygen all the time.

It is a long and agonising drive, but Zach is determined to keep the victim alive 18 hours after the accident.

The long-awaited Kenyan movie, “18 Hours”, hit cinema screens last Friday evening at an exclusive premiere at the Prestige Plaza in Nairobi.

The film, which is inspired by a true event, captures the reality of the Kenya health care system. It follows a rookie paramedic who spends 18 hours in an ambulance in a bid to save the life of an accident casualty.

It is inspired by the real-life story of medical worker Brian Odhiambo and the late Alex Madaga who went through a devastating ordeal in search of medical help to no avail in 2015.


Madaga was knocked down by a speeding car on Waiyaki Way, he was hit at the lower back of his head and was bleeding and thereafter was taken to Kikuyu Mission Hospital.

But because Kikuyu does not have ICU services, doctors referred him to Kenyatta National Hospital.

Before going to Kenyatta National Hospital, he was rushed to Nairobi Women’s Hospital at Adam’s arcade but unfortunately they did not have an ICU bed. They were in for another disappointment when on reaching KNH, they were told all their 21 ICU beds were filled up. The private hospitals they went to would not admit him without a cash payment of Sh200, 000.

“18 Hours” raises important issues on the status of emergency health care in the country, as well as highlights the importance of citizens registering for National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), laws and safeguards that enshrine universal emergency health care and informs the public on the power of first aid responses.

The film also pays tribute to the resilience, efforts and dedication of ambulance paramedics and care providers, it also shines a light on the critical structural challenges that disrupt their mission to save life.

Writer and director of the film Kevin Njue says “18 Hours” was one of the most emotional scripts to write even though he has written others before based on actual events.

“It was emotional writing the script because this is something someone actually went through. We collected a few stories from people so everything you see in the film, someone real experienced it-the medical part of it,” he says adding that “it was a tear jerkin experience watching it at the premiere too.”


Njue reveals that Madaga’s wife watched the film before way before anyone saw it and gave her stamp of approval for the release.

Emergency treatment is the provision of initial resuscitation, stabilisation and treatment to acutely ill and injured patients, as well as the delivery of those patients to the best available and definitive care.

In Kenya, it remains underdeveloped, under equipped and unsophisticated, regardless of whether it’s public or public health facility. It lacks an organised national emergency care system, standard operational procedures as well as specialised and trained personnel. This in turn, exposes victims and patients to avoidable deaths.

“It’s my hope that the film impacts the health care industry and the film industry too. In the health sector we have seen some dialogue happening, and I believe there will be some major changes in coming months in terms of the health act and how it’s going to be implemented,” says Njue.

He adds that although the cabinet secretary did not show up for the premiere, he is touch with them and they are hoping to push for positive change.

“This is a statement in the film industry, I read one review that said this is the best premiere in the country, it’s inspiring and hopefully we can grow the industry,” he says.

Statistics done by the production partners show that at least 933 per 10000 Kenyans die in emergency conditions in the country. These statistics also show that majority of public and private health centers have no access to phones- which could facilitate referrals of patients in need of complex care. This then translates to delays and complication in providing emergency care.

Outside of national and provincial hospitals, the statistics showed that the majority of other facilities lacked emergency transportation, meaning transportation of patients under emergency circumstances from these facilities could be fraught with delays and complications.

Sue Wanjiru, who played the role of the victim’s wife in the film, was humbled to be part of the cast.

“Being able to play Sabina’s role is emotional, till today. It has also been a learning experience for me. I wouldn’t have known what to do in the case of an emergency, if it was me before the movie. A lot of Kenyans don’t know as well, I believe,” she said at the premiere.

Mark Ogola, who played the ambulance driver as Mark echoed the same sentiments.

He said, “I was humbled, to be honest. But I still felt a deep sense of responsibility to play the role. The fact that it was a real-life event made it much more special for me,”

A number of media personalities graced the premiere, including Kenyan star athlete David Rudisha, who earlier on Friday evening pulled a stunt to hype the movie by pretending to be injured while training. He however later said in a tweet that it was all a stunt to highlight the need for better emergency response.

Produced by Kenyan film company Roque Pictures Inc, the 70 minute motion-picture cast is led by Nick Ndeda, from the MTV Shuga series, Susan Wanjiru, a 2015 Berlinale Talents Alumina from the film Something Necessary and rising star Brian Ogola from the award winning film Kati Kati.

The production team comprises of Best Young African Filmmaker awardwinner Njue Kevin, Women for Africa’s Young Achiever of the Year, 2016 Phoebe Ruguru, and Best East African Talent Bill Jones Afwani. Actress Brenda Wairimu popularly known for her roles in Mali and MTV’s Shuga is a co-producer in the film. Be sure to catch the film which is now screening.

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