By Danielle Payant
On August 1, 2018, four cases of the Ebola virus were confirmed in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Following on the heels of a previous outbreak which had just been contained in the western part of the country, these cases were the beginning of what was to become one of the largest Ebola epidemics in recorded history. In just over one year, the virus has taken over 2,100 lives and affected over 3,000 victims. And in the middle of it all has been Air Serv, an international aviation nonprofit headquartered in the heart of Warrenton.
The Ebola crisis is exactly the type of emergency which first inspired the mission of the organization: to utilize bush aircraft for the safe movement of humanitarian cargo and personnel in disaster areas. In 1984, a small group of humanitarian aviators recognized that ground convoys were sometimes inefficient or at risk when traveling through difficult terrain or war zones. Using lightweight aircraft, they were able to fly above the danger and transport critical cargo in a fraction of the time. Thus was born Air Serv.
Since the first case in 2018, Air Serv planes have been a crucial part of the international response to the most recent Ebola epidemic in DRC. In addition to the challenges faced in every humanitarian disaster, the North Kivu outbreak is accompanied by a particularly difficult set of obstacles due to its location amid an active war zone. While treating the sick, responders and victims are enduring attacks on medical facilities. Medical convoys have been hijacked, and funds must be diverted to provide necessary additional security. Air Serv airplanes provide a quick and safe method of delivery for lifesaving medicine, supplies, and medical personnel, as well as the means to reach remote affected areas to evacuate victims.
During medical evacuations, patients are transported with portable breathing equipment and in sterilized capsules, which require specialized attention and care. Recently, Air Serv staff in the neighboring country of South Sudan completed training with the World Health Organization (WHO) for handling the transport of Ebola-affected patients. In addition to awareness training, the Air Serv team participated in a practical drill with personnel from a United Nations Mission in South Sudan, United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, and the WHO. The drill was staged on the airport ramp in Juba, using an Air Serv aircraft, and addressed proper patient handling procedures with medical equipment during the transport process.
The recently completed training with the WHO qualifies Air Serv as one of the only air operators within the region to be specifically trained and experienced in Ebola response. “The Ebola outbreak has provided unique challenges to all caregivers,” says Bill Young, Air Serv’s Managing Director in Uganda. “Air Serv is proud of the role it has played in combating this most devastating virus.”
Air Serv remains committed to providing services for the Ebola response as long as it is needed, while utilizing other aircraft in its fleet for ongoing humanitarian programs through DRC, Sudan, and South Sudan. Air Serv aircraft are the bridge connecting lifesaving aid with those who need it most, and are dependent upon the generosity of donors to keep flying. For information about humanitarian programs or to make a donation to support emergency response efforts, please visit www.airserv.org.