As commerce, particularly in the petroleum industry, increases in the developing countries of the African continent, so too does the risk of exposure to highly infectious endemic diseases. Such diseases include avian/swine flu, the viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF), and multiple drug resistant tuberculosis (MDRTB) to name but a few. Although many countries, through their own Departments of Health, have adopted protocols to report and manage such illnesses, there are limited, if any, guidelines/procedures/vehicles to transport infected patients to centers of medical excellence (COME). Consequently, as these conditions are time-sensitive and many patients never receive adequate medical care, the absence of protocol may violate our duty of care.

From our own experience we have learned that medical transport of contagious/infected cases requires complete cooperation and authorization by all government officials responsible for Public Health in the countries concerned as well as in the countries where aircraft would refuel or fly over to reach their final destination.

During the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, we developed innovative safety measures to protect our medical teams/flight crews from contamination during medical evacuation/transport. Those measures included the design, in accordance with International Health Authority Guidelines (WHO, CDC), and implementation, of a compact, portable isolation unit (PIU), ideal for regional ground/air travel. More recently, we have incorporated a disposable biological containment unit (BCU) into our comprehensive protocols which is designed for a Gulfstream III, ideal for trans-ocean/continental travel.

Both the PIU and BCU enhance our ability to medically transport patients. We have demonstrated that: (1) efficient movement of the sick/infected patients has a positive impact on their outcome and (2) the creation and credentialing of a global network of preferred providers willing and able to accept such patients facilitates the transfer to the nearest COME rather than repatriations which may not always be practical or realistic.

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