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Out now on Amazon and Vimeo.

What if there were an algorithm for saving the most lives?

 

In Guatemala, Crecencia Buch, an impoverished Mayan woman, is battling cancer. Her life depends on decisions made by doctors and donors, decisions increasingly driven by Big Data. It’s a scientific, evidence-based approach that cuts through the emotion and promises to optimize health care delivery, transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. But what, and who, gets lost in all the number crunching?

The Life Equation is a powerful new documentary about global health in an era of Big Data.

Out now on Amazon and Vimeo.

What if there were an algorithm for saving the most lives?

 

In Guatemala, Crecencia Buch, an impoverished Mayan woman, is battling cancer. Her life depends on decisions made by doctors and donors, decisions increasingly driven by Big Data. It’s a scientific, evidence-based approach that cuts through the emotion and promises to optimize health care delivery, transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. But what, and who, gets lost in all the number crunching?

The Life Equation is a powerful new documentary about global health in an era of Big Data.

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INTERACTIVE

A free, interactive version with animated infographics, beautiful photos and over half an hour of short films is right on this page! Just click Jose’s Dilemma to get started.

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STORY

José is a new kind of health worker. His mission is to connect sick, impoverished Guatemalans with the care they need. When he meets Crecencia Buch, a mother of seven with late-stage cervical cancer, he faces a daunting question. The price tag to treat her disease is almost $10,000. And at best, it will buy only a few years of life. That money could instead fund a thousand pap smears — a cost-effective way of catching cancer before it’s too late. Should José take Crecencia’s case on?

 

Across the globe, an underfunded hospital in a rugged corner of Nepal needs an operating room and a doctor who can perform Caesarean sections. Dr. Shree Ram Tiwari is willing to step up to the plate, but his expertise does not come cheap. Should the hospital hire him?

 

These seem like impossible choices, but now there’s a way to decide them: powerful computers can crunch the numbers and determine which interventions deliver the most bang for the buck.

 

It’s an approach embraced by wealthy philanthropists like Bill Gates as they grapple with how to distribute their dollars to save the most lives. But others question whether algorithms can truly capture the complexities of global health.

 

Filmed over four years, The Life Equation follows two people caught in the number-crunching. In Guatemala, Crecencia fights cervical cancer and endemic stigmatism associated with her Mayan background. And in Nepal, Dr. Tiwari moves his family across the country to a remote hospital. We experience their highs and lows, and discover their own developing priorities, the value their families place on them, the choices they face – and the choices that are taken out of their hands.

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CREATIVE TEAM
TEAM

Director | Rob Tinworth travelled through Sichuan documenting life in China’s leprosy villages in 2012. That inspired The Life Equation. His work has aired on PBS’ NOVA and Frontline, and awards include an Emmy for Manhunt Boston Bombers, two Best Documentary honors at the Asian Television Awards, and two Cine Golden Eagles. His last feature documentary followed punk band Green Day’s foray into the world of musical theatre. The award-winning Broadway Idiot premiered at SXSW 2013.

 

Producer | Jonathan Schütz has worked extensively across Asia and Europe. He makes high-end, classic narrative docs for channels including Nat Geo, Discovery, History, Travel Channel and CNA. In 2014-15 he worked with BBC Media Action, the BBC’s in-house international development aid charity.

 

Camera | Brad Dillon, ACS has worked in every corner of the globe. Highlights from his growing list of awards include a Cine Golden Eagle for The Clouded Leopard for the Smithsonian, six festival awards for the feature documentary A Hero’s Journey, and the Golden Tripod from the Australian Cinematographers Society for Fatal Attractions.

 

Camera | Cameron Hickey is an Emmy winning journalist, cinematographer and hacker focused on human rights, poverty, and science. He has produced and shot content for the PBS NewsHour, NOVA, Bill Moyers, American Experience, WNET, PBS World, and The New York Times.

 

Camera | Kristy Campbell has worked on projects from Bosnia to China, London to Australia and a spectrum of places in between. At 26, she already has six industry awards under her belt including the prestigious Golden Tripod – the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) highest honor for excellence in cinematography.

 

Graphic Design | Mitch Butler is the alter-ego of “The Investigative Cartoonist,” a television personality and illustrator who specializes in visual explanation. He has explained current events on CBS and the Science Channel’s Brink and his animation has featured on PBS’ NOVA.

 

Composer | Chee Wei Tay is one of Southeast Asia’s leading composers. He has won numerous Compass Awards, including Young Composer of the Year in 2010, and picked up a Palm d-Or at Cannes in 2007 for the film Ah Ma.

The Life Equation is funded in part by the Pulitzer Center. Director Rob Tinworth spoke with them about why he started making this film.

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SAVE A LIFE

We owe a massive debt of thanks to these organizations for giving us unprecedented access into the homes and hospitals where the life and death stories in The Life Equation play out. Regardless of whether they are driven by the heart, or driven by the data, we have seen first hand the difference these groups make.

 

Possible Health
The NGO that restored Bayalpata Hospital in Nepal

 

The Maya Health Alliance (Wuqu’ Kawoq)
The NGO that provided Crecencia’s health care (among many things it does in Guatemala)

 

Watsi
Crowdfunding health care website

 

The Life You can Save
Peter Singer’s Effective Altruist website

 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
Chris Murray’s data gurus

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