Officials from the Ministry of Health and Child Care yesterday, begun receiving user training for the 12 air ambulances that Government bought from Russia ahead of their deployment and distribution among the country’s 10 provinces.
The ambulances were procured from Russia and were unveiled at a colourful ceremony by President Mnangagwa at an event that marked a huge leap in the country’s journey towards revamping its health services.
Zimbabwe, under the Second Republic, is undertaking a huge health sector transformation with which the President is targeting universal health coverage of quality consistent with an empowered upper-middle income economy.
An efficient ambulances services, more so the rapid air service, is central towards this goal, since so many live some distance from hospitals that can handle serious accident injuries or sudden serious medical emergencies and while many can get first aid from a clinic and a bit more care from a district hospital might need to be moved fast to a major provincial or referral hospital for life-saving treatment. Even a district hospital might be some distance away.
Speaking at a user acquaintance session at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals yesterday, Chief Director Curative Services in Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Maxwell Hove, who was standing in for the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary said the air ambulances will change the face of the country’s emergency response service.
He said against the backdrop that the air ambulances came fully equipped with mobile Intensive Care Unit and other services ordinarily found in a fully-fledged hospital, it was important that local experts get tutorials on how best to use the ambulances from the supplier.
Dr Hove said the air ambulances have a flying range of about 350km so they will be strategically stationed across the country’s 10 provinces so that they can airlift patients to the nearest health facility.
“In emergency medicine there is what is called the ‘golden hour’ where you need to take care of the patient within the first hour and when this is done it means their chance of survival is very high,” said Dr Hove.
“In total, we have 12 of these air ambulances. We are going to create bases for them throughout the country. They have a flying range of about 350km so we will spread the bases throughout the country by province.
“We will ensure that we have an ambulance in places like Victoria Falls, places like Mutare, Gweru, Bulawayo, Masvingo so that the entire country is well covered.
“The main thrust is to ensure that the time factor is taken care of in the management of patients.
“The time element is very crucial in a medical emergency, be it from a road traffic accident or any emergency for us to take the patient to access specialist,” he said.
In the face of criticism by some elements on why Government bought the air ambulances, Sally Mugabe Central Hospital celebrated paediatric surgeon Mr Bothwell Mbuwayesango, who rose to national prominence after leading a team that successfully separated conjoined twins on two occasions, said the decision to procure the air ambulances was a masterstroke.
“People were complaining that you cannot buy this very expensive equipment when you do not have a paracetamol,” said Dr Mbuwayesango.
“Why should patients not benefit from this equipment? It is very important for a country like ours to have air ambulance services where you cannot find good roads everywhere.
“Some ailments are very sensitive on time factor, so you need a very quick and efficient way to take the patient where they can get the best care.”
“In my area of specialty, I know there are several ailments and diseases which if you don’t intervene in the earliest possible time, you can lose the baby. In some cases, each hour you spend without attending the case, doubles the mortality.
“So, if the case starts at five percent mortality rate, after one hour the mortality is 10 percent, after two hours its 20 percent, the next hour is 40 percent, the next hour, don’t bother attending.
“So, for anybody to tell me that such a huge and very important investment by Government is misplaced expenditure, I will respectfully submit that they are wrong,” said the paediatric surgeon.
Head of Division Anaesthesia and Critical Care Medicine Dr Musvo Mupfanyangira said the air ambulances will ensure timeous evacuation and transfer of patients which in itself is critical in emergency patient management.
“It is going to improve service delivery for critically ill patients as well as patients who are involved in road traffic accidents,” said Dr Mupfanyangira.
“We normally transfer our patients, mainly inter hospital using ground ambulances, but even looking at a situation where you want to transfer a patient from Sally Mugabe Central Hospital to Parirenyatwa Hospital at around 4pm, imagine the traffic congestion that is there, so these ambulances will make a difference in terms of time because we need to capitalise on the golden hour,” she said.