Research

The Documentary Preview “Where the Roads End” Turns the Spotlight on Yaws Disease

The documentary tells the story of young researcher Oriol Mitjà in the island of Lihir, where he discovered a treatment that could lead to the eradication of the disease

11.05.2016

With a long standing ovation. That is how ISGlobal researcher Oriol Mitjà was acclaimed by the 350 people that filled the CaixaForum in Barcelona yesterday to watch the preview of the documentary “Where the Roads End”. The film tells the story of Dr. Mitjá in Lihir island (Papua New Guinea) where he discovered the treatment that has paved the way to the eradication of yaws, a neglected disease that even he was not familiar with before he arrived to the country.

The documentary, coproduced by TV3 and Televisión Española with the support of the “la Caixa” Foundation, owes its title to an old African proverb: “yaws starts where the roads end”. “We thought it is an appropriate title since it gives an idea of what is needed to fight a neglected disease that particularly affects people living in remote areas, as well as the challenges linked to a 9-week shooting, six of which were in the island”, comments film director Noemí Cuní.

The documentary will be shown on television next June 7, at 9:50pm at TV3 ("Sense Ficció" programme, Catalan TV) and soon also on the public Spanish Television (TVE).

In 2012, from the remote Lihir island, Oriol Mitjà, researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), published  a series of results that surprised the scientific community: he had discovered a treatment that, with one single oral dosis, was effective against yaws. “Where the Roads End”, to be broadcasted by TV3´s Sense ficció program, follows the catalan scientist along the road that, four years later, has led him to pilot WHO’s yaws eradication plan.

Thus, yaws could be the second human disease to be eradicated from the planet, after smallpox. Although it is not lethal, it affects around 100,000 children every year – in 13 low-income countries – and belongs to a group of seven cutaneous neglected diseases that cause lepra-like symptoms. “The infected children end up playing alone and cannot  go to shool. The antibiotic treatment costs only half a euro per person and the countries that have already used it have managed to eliminate the disease and the suffering it causes”, explains Oriol Mitjà.

“In the last 60 years there had been no new discoveries concerning the diagnosis or the treatment of this greatly neglected disease. This is not only a success story; it is also one of the best examples of how new scientific knowledge can directly contribute to improve the life of the most vulnerable populations”, says Antoni Plasència, Director of ISGlobal.

After the documentary, there was a debate coordinated by Adrià Bas, host of the “Solidaris” program of Catalunya Radio, with the participation of  Oriol Mitjà, Ariadna Bardolet of the Obra Social ”la Caixa”, Noemí Cuní, documentary director, Rafael Vilasanjuan, director of Policy and Global Development at ISGlobal, and Manel Raya, from TV3. Dr. Mitjà’s passion for his work was clearly reflected during the debate, and the culture counsellor Santi Vila underlined the importance of this type of research to ensure that a person’s health perspectives are not determined by the place or country of birth.