Four patients hospitalized on the island of Reunion, suffering from Covid-19, were evacuated to France by medical flight Thursday evening, an operation unprecedented by the duration of the journey and the number of patients transported, according to the health authorities .
Coming from Mayotte from which they had already been medically evacuated, the four patients were hospitalized in intensive care in Reunion.
Their plane took off from Reunion Island at 9:33 p.m. local time (6:33 p.m. Paris time), AFP noted, and is due to land at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport on Friday morning after an eleven-hour flight.
Witness the complexity of the operation, the transfer of the four patients from the ambulances to the aircraft took about two hours.
“They are unconscious and intubated,” said Professor Bertrand Guihard, head of SAMU Réunion, during a press briefing on Thursday morning.
If “there is no zero risk” in medicine, Mr. Guihard underlined: “we have put all the means (in place) to minimize these risks in terms of medical skills, number of caregivers, equipment , organization and preparation “.
If medical evacuations are common between the island and France, this is the first time that so many patients have been transported simultaneously, said the doctor.
A civil aviation exemption was also necessary to allow Air Austral to embark these patients. “We are approved to carry two stretchers, we had a special authorization to upgrade to four,” said Amine Tadjadit, airworthiness maintenance manager at Air Austral.
Air Austral’s Boeing 787 trip to mainland France will last 11 hours. For this first, extraordinary means were implemented by the Regional Health Agency (ARS) and the University Hospital (CHU) of Reunion: 15 caregivers, including three doctors and four nurses from the Samu in Paris, as well as that 800 kg of medical equipment were thus mobilized.
“On this operation, we were mandated by the Ministry of Health to coordinate the different actors, the different Samus, the operator of the plane that we charter, Air Austral, and this in permanent connection with the crisis unit of the ministry of Health, “Arnaud Derossi, medical director at International SOS, a company specializing in medical evacuations, told AFP.
“These Covid patients have pulmonary fragility, which requires being very careful. There we are on four patients transported, it is an enormous logistics, a whole organization which is exceptional”, comments Mr. Guihard.
– 9,000 liters of oxygen –
“The transport of one or two serious patients is part of everyday life, it is true that four patients in serious condition with sophisticated resuscitation care, with the capacity to take care of them in the event of a worsening in flight , it is less frequent, “explained Mr. Derossi, adding that two extracorporeal oxygenation machines have been planned.
Each patient will have 9,000 liters of oxygen available, more than the 7,000 they will normally need according to doctors. This quantity “is one of the points for which we have limited the number of patients (evacuated), because the quantity (of oxygen) that we can afford on board remains limited”, adds the doctor.
At this stage, another such operation has not yet been decided.
The place of hospitalization of patients in Ile-de-France has not been specified.
It is to reduce the pressure on the Reunionese hospital system that this evacuation takes place, the cost of which has not been indicated.
The occupancy rate of the intensive care units is 90%. Of the 122 beds available, 54 are occupied by Covid-19 patients, including 16 by Reunionese and 38 by medical evacuees from Mayotte.
Between February 20 and 26, 884 new cases of Covid, including seven deaths, were identified by the ARS on the island, an incidence rate of 104 per 100,000.
Since the start of the epidemic on March 11, 2020, 13,125 people have been infected with the virus in Reunion Island and 59 patients have died.