International SOS completes first multiple ICU COVID-19 patient evacuation

A team of travel risk management experts from International SOS have completed a complex evacuation and repatriation involving four ICU COVID-19 patients from La Réunion to Paris.

Commissioned by the French Ministry of Health and carried out in collaboration with SAMU, the Regional Health Agency, Air Austral and Aéroports de Paris, the unique operation involved 20 medical staff.

The chartered Air Austral Boeing 787 made the 11-hour flight from Réunion Island to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport on 5th March, following a civil aviation exemption to allow the airline to embark so many patients on stretchers and with such a high volume of oxygen (40,000 litres).

Onboard, portable blood analysers, an ultrasound machine, two ECMO machines (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) and backup ventilators represented one ton of medical equipment.

“Transporting one or two seriously ill patients is part of everyday life. This particular situation was highly unique and even more complex, with all four patients in an unconscious and intubated-ventilated condition. Medical evacuations, particularly during the pandemic, are complex but this was even more so, requiring an even greater level of care and coordination. We were honoured to be called on for our expertise and proud to be part of the team that was able to transport the patients safely,” explained Dr Arnaud Derossi, regional medical director at International SOS.

The operation was staffed by the SAMU from Paris and La Réunion, with five ICU doctors, five ICU nurses, seven EMTs and one logistician, while International SOS provided a flight nurse and a logistics expert for supporting the various teams and interfacing with the aircraft crew and the International SOS Paris assistance centre.

The International SOS Assistance Centre’s role was to interface with the various SAMUs, the airport and the aircraft, under supervision by the Health Ministry crisis centre.

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