The largest humanitarian evacuation programme in recent history
The initial call to help came a week before the fall of Kabul in August 2021. During the in-depth screening and assessment process that was in place under ARAP (Afghan Relocation and Assistance Programme) a few individuals had been identified as requiring medical support. Could we support and care for them on board the chartered aircraft from Kabul to the UK? Little did we realise how things were going to evolve in the coming weeks and that we would end up being playing a key part in the largest humanitarian evacuation programme in recent history.
An honour for the air ambulance team
After our first flight direct from Kabul to the UK, the humanitarian situation escalated rapidly as the Taliban took control only a few days later. Fast forward and just 17 days later our teams landed safely back in the UK after the successful completion of their final flight from Dubai. During this time, we had provided 40 medical escorts and supported 2,000 individuals on board multiple evacuation flights from Dubai, organised by the ARAP team.
“The teams were just incredible” says Jane Topliss, Managing Director of Air Alliance Medflight UK Ltd, who oversaw and co-ordinated Air Alliance’s involvement. She continues; “The lengths that they all went to in order to make this happen makes me feel so proud to work alongside them. Air ambulance work always gives a sense of achievement in doing something worthwhile, but this just took it to a new level. It was an honour to be involved in such a meaningful, and historic, humanitarian programme. A special mention must be made to our Clinical Services Manager, Adam Broom and our newest co-ordinating team member, Lesley Rudd, who went above and beyond, especially as they both even cancelled their well-earned leave to undertake several flights.”
High medical support needs among evacuees
Dr Neil Crooks, UK Medical Director, takes up the story. “We were presented with a large number of adult and paediatric patients with a wide range of pathology including recent cardiac events and poorly-controlled epilepsy, children with cerebral palsy who had complex care needs, late gestation pregnancies and diabetes. As the evacuations escalated other passenger needs became apparent such as dehydration, trauma (mental and physical) and issues associated with the confiscation of prescription medicine by the Taliban. The situation and speed of processing required in country meant that only those more serious or obvious cases were able to be identified pre-flight by the military aeromed teams on the ground, and so our team employed a system of secondary assessment and triage during boarding and on the flight back to the UK to identify any issues that needed further medical input”.
Dr Crooks continues; “Aircraft diversion was not an option so we assembled an experienced 4 person medical team with a skill-mix capable of dealing with paediatric, obstetric, frontline emergency care and critical care. We felt this skill mix gave us a great platform from which we were able to provide care to any patient presentation on board especially with so many children and pregnant women on board”.
Close cooperation as a success factor
Significant co-ordination and liaison was required between multiple government agencies, airport authorities, quarantine facilities, charter brokers and ground transport providers. We were in a unique position of having hands-on contact with the passengers and could identify their needs, not only on board on the aircraft, but also ongoing once they arrived in the UK. “It was truly humbling to see the extraordinary efforts by so many people from senior government down to local charities and organisations to make the journey and the start of their new lives as comfortable as possible.” Concludes Jane. “Thank you ARAP for asking us to be part of the amazing work that you are doing”.
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