Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, a new four-part series on BBC Four and iPlayer from Nutopia, examines the science and medical innovations that conquered some of the world’s deadliest diseases and doubled life expectancies for many across the globe.
Set in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis, this series explores the lessons learned from previous global pandemics - including smallpox, cholera, the Spanish flu and others - and reveals how scientists, doctors, self-experimenters and activists launched a public health revolution, saving millions of lives, fundamentally changing how we think about illness and ultimately paving the way for modern medicine.
David Olusoga, says: "The revolution in medicine and public health that has taken place over the past three centuries is one of the greatest achievements of all time. The series is a history of unsung heroes and forgotten pioneers whose incredible stories deserve to be better known."
“Now more than ever, we need powerful storytelling that captures and explains the achievements in public health and medicine over the past few centuries,” says Johnson. “The fact that we have doubled life expectancy may well be the single most important development in modern history.”
Mandy Chang, BBC Commissioning Editor, says: “We are thrilled to be involved in this very timely series with David Olusoga and Steven Johnson, tracking key breakthroughs in science and medicine and the incredible impact this has had on our lives. Taking four critical subjects: vaccination, data, behavioural change and medicine, the stories in each of these episodes demonstrate how the past can help us understand the present, as we face and deal with the coronavirus pandemic and David and Steven’s journeys through these compelling stories will resonate deeply with us all.”
Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer features leading public health authorities and scientists working on the front line of the current pandemic and explores how the pioneering approaches and innovative medical triumphs of the past provided a blueprint for our future in the battle to live longer.
Episode one, Vaccines explores the history and use of vaccination, from early practices in Africa introduced to America during the slave trade and Thomas Jefferson's clinical trials, to the first anti-vax protests in the 19th century and Covid-19 today.
Episode two, Data looks at how the emergence of fact-based research, data mapping and analysis has improved public health. The practice evolved out of the 19th century science of epidemiology and cholera mortality reports in the 1840s, where the now ubiquitous 'curve' of an epidemic was first documented.
Episode three, Medicine focuses on the more recent medical inventions that combat illness directly, particularly antibiotics, and the development of antiviral drugs for HIV. Knowledge of how to produce safe, effective drugs and distribute them quickly around the globe now underpins work to find treatments for Covid-19.
Episode four, Behaviour examines the importance of public engagement during a health crisis, from the discovery that the simple act of handwashing could save lives in a 19th century Viennese maternity hospital, to facemasks and lockdowns used to combat the Spanish flu 100 years ago, along with what we are experiencing today.
Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer is a Nutopia production for the BBC and PBS.