Eric got a call late one evening, not long after confirmed COVID-19 cases started to be reported in Kenya. He was asked to pilot a flight to Mandera County in the far northeastern part of the country, near the borders with Somalia and Ethiopia. This flight would be a little different than the usual ones the 29-year-old pilot does with AMREF Flying Doctors, an arm of Amref Health Africa that transports and evacuates patients via light aircraft aircraft.
Mandera County had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 but it didn’t have any ventilators to treat patients and frontline health workers had little personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns and gloves, or sanitizer. There was no time to waste, so AMREF Flying Doctors was called in to deliver the goods as quickly as possible. Nairobi to Mandera County takes up to two days to drive; flight time, though, is just over two hours.
“We had very good weather on the flight with some low lying clouds near Mandera that we had to plan around in case we couldn’t land safely. By the time we got there, though, the clouds had lifted and we landed at the military airstrip with a very warm reception from the Cabinet Secretary of Health for Mandera County,” says Eric.
Eric, the flight crew and county government staff unloaded the ventilator and the boxes of sanitizer and personal protective equipment. Then, they carefully loaded 33 blood samples from patients suspected of having COVID-19 into the Pilatus PC12 plane. AMREF Flying Doctors was delivering the blood samples to a lab in Nairobi so Mandera County health officials could get the results quickly.
“Flying the blood samples to Nairobi was definitely a unique experience for me,” says Eric. “We had to take extra precautions to make sure they were packaged properly and we as flight crew were not exposing ourselves to anything.”
The blood samples were analyzed the following day, and four were confirmed to be positive for COVID-19. Mandera County was notified right away, enabling health workers to follow up with treatment and contact tracing.