The Sunday Mail
Russian flight paramedic instructors are expected in the country this week to start training local air ambulance personnel, paving the way for the launch of Zimbabwe’s first national air ambulance service.
The Russian team will conduct an intensive training programme for senior doctors, nurses and ambulance staff at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare.
In May, Zimbabwe took delivery of 18 brand-new helicopters from Russia for emergency air medical services and law enforcement. Twelve will be used for the national air ambulance service.
An additional 14 helicopters will be delivered next year, under a public-private sector partnership agreement between Government and the Russian State Corporation.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail, Health and Child Care Permanent Secretary Dr Aspect Maunganidze said: “The Russian team is coming next week (this week) to train our doctors, nurses and ambulance staff so that we can roll out the service in an organised and efficient manner.
“The first group comprises experienced doctors, nurses and other support staff.
“This will be done at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.”
The Government-funded air medical transport service is provided to critically ill or injured people within a country’s borders.
Such services are typically provided using helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft to transport patients from, say, the scene of an accident to a hospital equipped to provide the necessary care.
Experts say air ambulances come in handy as they can rapidly transport patients to hospitals, especially from remote areas or those with limited access to ground ambulance services.
This timely transport can be crucial in saving lives and improving patient outcomes during what is referred to as the “golden hour” in medicine.
The “golden hour” refers to the critical period soon after a traumatic injury during which prompt medical and surgical intervention is most effective in preventing death.
The Kazan Ansat helicopters are equipped with a full suite of advanced medical equipment — including a ventilator, infusion pumps, a cardiac monitor and a defibrillator.
The Ansat can accommodate up to two patients on stretchers, or up to four patients seated.
The ambulances have an environmental control system that maintains a comfortable temperature and humidity level in the cabin, even in extreme conditions.
Also, the helicopters have a quiet engine and cabin, which helps to reduce patient stress and anxiety.
There are plans to set up bases for the helicopters, which have a flying range of about 350km, initially in places such as Victoria Falls, Mutare, Gweru, Bulawayo and Masvingo.
Public health expert and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Dr Johannes Marisa said establishment of a national air ambulance service was a major leap in the development of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system.
“Particularly during the upcoming festive season, when road accidents tend to occur at higher rates, the air ambulances are poised to be instrumental in saving lives and minimising the impact of emergencies,” he said.
“By leveraging on state-of-the-art technology and specialised training, the country is poised to mitigate the devastating consequences of emergencies and improve overall health care outcomes.”
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike said it was Government’s duty to guarantee the availability, accessibility and affordability of effective and quality emergency medical services.
“Good-quality emergency medical services provide an immediate solution to a variety of illnesses and injuries and the treatment and transportation of people in health situations that may be life-threatening,” he said.
Mr Rusike said there was need to adequately fund emergency departments in health institutions to cope with critically ill patients.
Government has been working on initiatives to modernise the country’s public healthcare system.
Last year, it procured 100 fully kitted ambulances that were distributed to public health institutions countrywide.
In addition, Government, in collaboration with NMS Infrastructure Limited, a British company, is constructing 30 22-bed health centres and five 60-bed district hospitals across the country through a US$210 million facility.
Construction of two medical centres in Stoneridge (Harare) and Cowdray Park (Bulawayo) has already been completed, while others in Mataga (Mberengwa) and the Runyararo Health Centre in Chimanimani are nearing completion.
A multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art pharmaceutical warehouse was also built at the Sally Mugabe Central Hospital in Harare.
Treasury has also purchased a set of new advanced radiotherapy machines used to treat cancer. These await installation at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and Mpilo Central Hospital.
Plans are also underway to acquire Gamma Knife machines for the two institutions.
These are stereotactic radiosurgery devices that use gamma radiation beams in intricate procedures to treat tumours in brains, spinal cords and sensitive body parts.
Additionally, US$2,3 million has been released by Treasury to fund the repair of five radiotherapy machines — three at Parirenyatwa and two at Mpilo.