Starting November 1 at 9 PM, the National Geographic Channel is debuting a six-part series on cutting-edge advancements in the field of science. Called Breakthrough, the series is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the less-heralded individuals who make life a reality for the seven billion or so people on this planet. Each episode covers one specific element of scientific discovery and is directed by a Hollywood producer or celebrity, adding a unique perspective to the viewer. For the premiere episode, Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Hancock) takes a look at a subject that came to the forefront of the world’s attention last year: Ebola.
Yes, that Ebola.
At first, this was an illness that caused significant damage and death but was limited to countries on the western coast of Africa. But as time progressed, there was a major problem: the number of cases of the disease were increasing and no significant progress was being made on getting people well. Acquiring the virus was essentially a death sentence, ripping a person apart from the inside out. When a few cases made their way to the United States, people suddenly understood there was a potential for a pandemic not unlike the Black Death of the 16th century, malaria, and smallpox (a pandemic is an epidemic of global proportions). With the methods of acquiring Ebola and the ability of individuals to fly around the world not knowing they had the disease, something localized could quickly reach an uncontrolled state unless something was done quickly.
Scientists from all over the world started trying to figure out how to combat Ebola. The U.S. government started attempting to isolate ways to attack the virus by doing the only thing they could—working with the real thing under ultra-high safety precautions. Other groups attempted to determine what combination of antibodies could be used to defeat it. Still others worked on ways to give people a potential vaccine, such as Dr. Maria Croyle (above), without having to resort to needles. The problem was that time was running out and people were dying left and right—not only the patients, but the doctors and nurses caring for them.
Ian Crozier (shown above), a doctor working in Sierra Leone, fell victim to Ebola in this manner and was taken to the US to receive treatment. He survived, but barely. His story, along with the developments by the scientists noted above, receive the attention they deserve in the premiere episode of Breakthrough. “Fighting Pandemics” isn’t easy to watch; in fact, there are a number of real and grisly video clips that may cause some people to turn away. [To that end, I recommend not letting anyone below the age of ten see this; the other episodes in the series are safe for all audiences.] But the story has to be told, and Berg does a nice job balancing despair with hope and fear with awareness.
Often, the terms faith and science are seen as completely incompatible with each other. But as the episode of Breakthrough powerfully shows, there are roles that both can play in the treatment of diseases such as Ebola and strains of treatable diseases that are becoming resistant to traditional drugs and procedures. Science has the ability to analyze and determine appropriate ways to treat (and hopefully eradicate) these viruses, but faith can help to provide both awareness and compassionate care to the people who suffer with the symptoms and are isolated from all contact for periods longer than a month. Take, for example, the story of Dr. Kent Brantly, who worked alongside Samaritan’s Purse to treat patients in Liberia. He developed the disease and just like Dr. Ian Crozier, was flown to the US for care. Brantly also survived and said afterward, “I did not know then, but I have learned since, that there were thousands, maybe even millions of people around the world praying for me throughout that week, and even still today. And I have heard story after story of how this situation has impacted the lives of individuals around the globe—both among my friends and family, and also among complete strangers.”
Christians are called to take care of those who are weaker (see Acts 20:34-36) and also to pray for these individuals. Of course, the goal is for the person to return to health, but also it can be to hear God’s voice and respond to His call on their life regarding His Son Jesus. The key is to know how and when to respond in appropriate manners. Not everyone is going to be able to don safety gear and provide the treatment these people need, but they can pray (in the case of Crozier, he was in complete isolation for forty days before he recovered). We can be compassionately responsible in these times, so that when the next potential pandemic breaks out, we’ll be ready to help—by science, faith, or perhaps both.
Breakthrough will air on Sundays at 9 PM (starting November 1) on the National Geographic Channel.