This week I’ve been able to enjoy flying to some new destinations. Our clinical workload remains high, but the complexity has been lower in the last few days. Cases have included trauma from more road traffic accidents, acute renal failure and gastrointestinal bleeding. On one busy day, we evacuated patients from the Democratic Republic of Congo in the morning and from the interior of Somalia in the afternoon.
Below, two shots taken close to the Tanzanian border – an active volcano and soda lake.
Formerly known as Zaire, DR Congo which lies right in the centre of the continent and at two-thirds the size of Western Europe, is Africa’s largest country. It has huge natural resources but has been blighted by many years of war and corruption. It is still seen by many as a failed state, with the government unable to provide decent education or healthcare facilities. Known by some as Africa’s ‘World War,’ DR Congo has been a battleground with militias backed by rival surrounding states including Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe who support the government and the rebels who have been backed by Uganda and Rwanda. This complex situation has led to a loss of life in the millions and the UN’s largest peace-keeping force. It is bottom of the UN’s development index of 187 countries, has a life expectancy of 48 years and an annual average income of $300. This is in the context of having 70% of the world’s coltan (needed for the manufacture of mobile phones) and 14% of the entire world hydro power potential; this would be enough to provide power to most of the continent, yet only 9% of the population has access to electricity. *
As we descended through the clouds I could see thousands of feet below, the lush green Congolese mountainsides, dramatic volcanoes on the Rwandan border and meandering rivers like blood red ribbons snaking through the landscape. This was ‘gorillas in the mist’ country and was beautiful. The lake sparkled in the morning sun as we swooped down to land. An aircraft graveyard was prominent next to the runway with relics from a bygone age… I was later to realise some of these relics were still flying which goes part of the way to explaining why DRC has the worst air crash record in the world. We had to stop at a large regional airport first, to clear customs etc, before departing for a smaller, more remote area to collect our patient. The place had an understandably hostile and edgy to feel to it, with a steady stream of ‘officials’ with dollar signs in their eyes, asking to see our documents and demanding payment for various reasons. As we taxied to the runway for the second leg of our journey, I noticed a number of Russian-manufactured Hind helicopter gunships amongst the plethora of UN aircraft. As it turned out, the evacuation proceeded uneventfully and I was glad to return to Nairobi. Upon arrival I was given my next job of the day – an evacuation of African Union troops from the interior of Somalia…
Somalia is in flux. The situation on the ground is definitely improving, with the recent advances made by the AMISOM troops in the south of the country. That said, it was still a little disconcerting to see the lines of tanks and artillery positions beside the runway as we landed. We scooped up two soldiers and quickly turned around to head back towards Kenya. AMREF Flying Doctors is a very professional organisation and we do not take any risks with our evacuations. However, it felt good to be back in Nairobi at the end of that day, following visits to two of the most turbulent states in the world.
On a gentler note it was great to go back to the Massai Mara National Park on another evacuation this week. I’ve now been lucky enough to travel there by road, hot air balloon and fixed-wing aircraft. We evacuated three Mara Conservancy employees whose vehicle had overturned while chasing poachers the previous evening. One had a badly broken leg, another a suspected fractured pelvis. They needed pain-relief and very gentle handling to prevent any further complications. This week, in addition to flying, I’ve also been emailing insurance companies to help with the commercial part of our operation, which in turn funds our charity work. I took my first day off in 5 weeks yesterday and enjoyed a few cold Tuskers with my friends at the fantastic Wildebeest Eco Camp.
Thanks again for reading. More next week.
*Facts and figures from the BBC, UN and World Bank
Below, evacuation from Massai Mara National Park