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Home / Health & Science

Flying Doctors: Saving lives on air since 1957

Health & ScienceBy Kiundu Waweru | Sat,Mar 29 2014 00:00:00 UTC | 3 min read

By Kiundu Waweru

Nairobi, Kenya: Master Satrin Osinya was flown to Nairobi at a cost of about Sh620,000. Had The Standard not highlighted his plight, his life would be hanging on a thread as Amref would never have heard of the case.

With a bullet lodged in his brain, Satrin could not make it through road travel. He could not remain in Mombasa as he needed specialised care. The Air Ambulance of the Amref Flying Doctors offered its specialised aircraft free of charge and handled the 11-month-old boy safely.

But unbeknown to many people, the Flying Doctors, part of the African Medical and Research Foundation started in 1957 by Sir Michael Wood, evacuate an average of 25 medical emergencies annually.

Nurse Jane Munyua, who has worked with the organisation for 13 years, almost living most of her life on air, has seen it all. She has rescued girls from the remotest areas of Turkana. She has also lost patients in-flight.

“One of my highlights is evacuating teenage mothers and their babies in Turkana. In this community, they give birth at home and most times complications occur.” In such cases, they work with area medical facilities like Wamba Catholic Hospital in Samburu. 

The medical flights always have a doctor and nurse, the number depending on the medical case at hand. The flying medics are trained in emergency intensive care. For the nurses they undergo a specialised one year diploma course on intensive care with the Nursing Council of Kenya and also abroad. For doctors, says Dr Reuben Misati who attended to Satrin in-flight, intensive care is part of their undergraduate training followed by studies in Cardiac life support, trauma and pediatric life support later.

Baby Satrin was evacuated by one of their best planes, a Beechcraft King Air 200, aboard flight 5YFDE.  It is fitted with lifesaving paediatric resuscitation equipment.

When there are national emergency disasters like the Kisii road crash where pupils and teachers were killed last year, they are called to help. But considering the costs involved, the Flying Doctors scrutinise each case with a fine toothcomb but with speed as most times a life hangs on a thread.

Supported by donations

Amref chief executive and medical director, Dr Bettina Vadera, says that they have a policy that guides them in evaluating a charity flight request. “It is based on medical and social economic considerations. The medical condition has to be acute, life threatening and the nearest medical facility is unable to provide the specialised care that the patient needs.”

Like in Satrin’s case, the charity airlifts are given to people who genuinely cannot afford it. Satrin’s father, Osinya, is unemployed. Amref Flying doctors is supported by donations.

However, for those who are able, Amref has an annual Maisha Air Ambulance Cover. Unutilised funds from this cover go to the charity kitty.

“We plead to the Government to consider setting up a National Emergency fund that can help support our charity missions. Whenever a national disaster, or a mass casualty incident like the case of the Kisii bus accident happens, we are called to help,” says the Dr Vadera, “Sometimes we dispatch more than one aircraft. This eats into our charity evacuation fund and can limit our capacity to respond to individual charity requests where a person’s life may depend on our intervention.”

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