Double COVID-19 patient evacuation by Amref Flying Doctors, ISTAT

by Amref Health Africa

Amref Flying Doctors, the leading air ambulance service provider in Africa, recently received a unique request from an assistance partner: a double COVID-19 patient evacuation. The team was in fact asked to transfer a woman and her four-year-old child – both of whom presented COVID-19 symptoms – from the Comoros Islands to Nairobi, Kenya, in order for the patients to access higher levels of medical care. “This mission presented an excellent learning opportunity for the team”, claims Dr. Joseph Lelo, Medical Director of Amref Flying Doctors.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak in the African continent, over 80.000 nautical miles have been flown on Amref Flying Doctors’ COVID-19 medevacs. In fact, having acquired, at the outbreak of the emergency crisis, two portable isolation chambers which enabled the transportation of COVID-19 patients between medical facilities over the past 6 months, Amref Flying Doctors has already performed 55 COVID-19 patients’ evacuations and a total of 506 medevac flights. However, this was the first ever request for a double COVID-19 patient evacuation.

Two isolation units and the essential presence of at least three medical personnel immediately generated a space-related challenge. “Reflection and planning were, therefore, key”, adds Dr. Lelo. The child’s young age and consequent uncooperativeness and unease, the weather conditions and the time limit created further challenges for the team.

Moreover, “although the medical report testified a stable state of both patients, the personnel had to prepare for a worst-case-scenario outcome”, continues Dr. Lelo. “Thus, rigorous consultation with the medical director and aeromedical coordinator were necessary, and the team ensured that extra oxygen cylinders were carried and safely secured onboard, standard drugs were double-checked in consideration of pediatric dosages for the child, and timelines were reviewed, with alternatives in place in case of operational delays”. Adequate planning and senior medical consultation are in fact the cornerstones of safe medical evacuations, especially in these turbulent times. Considerations for safety for all involved must always take priority.

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the African continent, Amref Flying Doctors has supported the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Health and has provided logistical and professional support whenever called upon to do so. As confirmed by the Medical Director, Amref Flying Doctors underwent a rapid adaptation into safe contagious disease transports. “With adequate training and support from partners such as ISTAT foundation, as well as good leadership, Amref Flying Doctors has led the way in safe operations in a very complex and demanding environment” concludes Dr. Lelo.

ISTAT, the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading Foundation has been supporting Amref Flying Doctors since July 2020, when it announced a 70.000 USD grant to support the air ambulance service’s COVID-19 response.

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