Challenges in transporting COVID-19 patients by fixed-wing air ambulance
Karien Basson, Air Ambulance Base Manager, South Africa
Facing extreme temperatures in full PPE, heavy lifting, confined spaces for hours on end and complex logistical issues are some of the challenges that have been highlighted when transporting patients with COVID-19, by fixed-wing air ambulance within Africa.
The aviation medical environment is always challenging. Treating patients in an aircraft with limited space and limited resources, is the norm. There is no access to additional medical specialists beyond those you have on board once you’re in flight. Two-crew are the order of the day, within cramped aircraft interiors. If patients become unstable, the situation can change rapidly, and you need to be on top of your game.
Download our 2020 Retrospective: Year of the Nurse & Midwife publication, which marks the celebration of nurses and midwives as they share their thoughts and experiences amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Traveling in Africa poses its own set of unique challenges: extreme temperatures, language barriers, runway closures and restricted operating times. Fuel and fuelling services are only available during daylight hours, and customs and immigration facilities are only available during certain times - some of the handful of challenges thrown into the mix.
We had to adjust and plan to make sure flights were successful and patients safely transported. Training was done, stock was ordered, protocols were written, and more training was done. Flight plans were made, adjusted and adjusted again. Protocols were studied repeatedly, and on 18 June 2021 we embarked on our first COVID medevac mission.
We have since done many and learned even more. The challenges are everywhere, but are never insurmountable. The patients ranged from stable cases inside the Portable Medical Isolation Unit (PMIU) to extremely unstable and challenging medical cases.
Heat, sweltering sun, extreme humidity, or torrential rain while embarking or disembarking added to the difficulties on many occasions.
COVID-19 has taught us to be resilient and to be adaptable. 2020 was announced the year of the nurse and has proven how extremely vital nurses are in the health care team. We are at the bedside; we are there when it counts. And in these challenging times, and unique environment, the nurse has proven to be an irreplaceable part of the puzzle.