There was excitement as Kenya’s first air ambulance, carefully flown from Wilson Airport by Captain George Njihia, landed at the rooftop of Nairobi West Hospital on Wednesday.
This first of a kind medical evacuation programme now beats the common fixed-wing air ambulances, which often need to land at runways in airstrips and airports.
With the advancement coming at a time when the entire globe is working on strengthening the emergency medical responses, Nairobi West Hospital Chief Medical Officer, Dr Andrew Kanyi said the move will not only benefit Kenyans but also international patients caught in emergencies that need quick medical attention.
The helipad, placed at the rooftop at the 7th floor of the hospital’s building in Nairobi West, is a first of its kind as other hospitals have their own helipads on the ground.
“This air ambulance can pick anyone from anywhere in the country and outside and right here at Nairobi West where we have a 45-bed ICU facility just two floors below the helipad where the patient will receive immediate attention,” Dr Kanyi said.
Despite being the only facility currently having the private rooftop helipad, the hospital’s boss said they were soon going to sign agreements with other hospitals. From there, the hospitals can then come up with a module on how they can help each other evacuate, airlift critically the injured or wounded patients, take them to Nairobi West Hospital, and then later on transfer them to the hospitals of their choice.
“People can be evacuated by road, but for instance, taking a patient from Thika by a car ambulance will take up to an hour, yet that same distance of 40 kilometres from Thika to here can be covered in under ten minutes by this helicopter ambulance,” he said.
The air ambulance is fully stocked with all medical emergency equipment with Dr Kanyi saying there were plans to ensure that the air “clinic” was stocked with oxygen to improve its efficiency when handling patients who need to be on life support machines while still on the way to the hospital.
The hospital, currently the main caregiver to the National Police Service officers, now looks to increase its efficiency in handling police officers and other armed forces officers who get injured in the course of their duty, especially when dealing with terrorist gangs or insurgents in the remote parts of the country.
However, Dr Kanyi clarified that the ultra-modern air ambulance was not just a preserve of the police and the army but for all patients in need of urgent medical attention.
Speaking during the launch of the helipad just shortly after the grey helicopter branded the hospital’s name landed on the rooftop of the hospital, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director General Captain Gilbert Kibe commended the development.
“I am impressed by what I have seen and I can tell you that you have met all the aviation standards and that is why we are here today to celebrate with you this milestone,” he said.
He further added that the development could not have come at a better time as the world is currently dealing with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic thus increasing the need to have quick and efficient medical response and care giving.
The multi-million project was a joint venture between the Kenya Commercial Bank and the Nairobi West Hospital with the latter funding the investment.
Catherine Wanjiru, KCB’s senior relationship Manager, in charge of health care, pledged the bank’s support to the hospital saying the air ambulance project was in line with the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal number three that emphasised on quality medical health care for everyone.
“This is a first step in changing the healthcare landscape of our country and a revolutionary service of the medical evacuation sector,” she said.
The Assistant Director of the Professional Assessment at the Kenya Medical Practitioner’s Board, Dr King’ori Wangeci, said the board was pleased with the medical evacuation advancement and pledged to strengthen their engagement with Nairobi West Hospital.
Other than responding to medical emergencies arising from accidents, acts of terror and victims of war, the air ambulance will also come in handy in facilitating transportation of transplants as well as medical tourism clientele.