Vietnamese doctors deployed to “rescue” COVID-19 workers from Equatorial Guinea

Tuesday, 2020-07-28 09:54:29
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Doctor Nguyen Trung Cap, Deputy Director of the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases (C), encourages doctors from the hospital before their departure on the special flight on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Thanh Dang)
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NDO – Vietnamese doctors departed from Hanoi-based Noi Bai International Airport on Tuesday morning (Jul 28) for a special rescue mission, as they accompany a repatriation flight to bring 120 Vietnamese COVID-19 workers home from Equatorial Guinea.

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All the medical staff from the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases have prepared themselves for a new “fight”, welcoming the largest ever number of COVID-19 patients home on a long and challenging journey.

At 7 am this morning, national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines flight VN 5022 departed Noi Bai Airport, heading to Equatorial Guinea to fly 219 Vietnamese citizens home, including 120 workers who have been confirmed positive for COVID-19.

All the citizens, the four medical workers on board and the flight crew that have accompanied them home will then be isolated and provided with treatment at the hospital when the Airbus A350 plane lands at Noi Bai on late Wednesday night.

Facing an unprecedented large number of COVID-19 patients to be admitted to the hospital at the same time, Dr. Pham Ngoc Thach, Director of the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said that the hospital is ready to dedicate all departments in its second base in Kim Chung, in Hanoi’s suburban district of Dong Anh, with 400-500 rooms, to better facilitate treatment and infectious prevention.

The hospital has prepared two ventilators, two ultrasound machines, oxygen systems and adequate medicine to ready themselves for emergencies in severe cases. If there is a bad situation, their goal is to try to get the patients back to the hospital, then to mobilise more personnel to continue the emergency support, Thach said.

Adequate equipment and medicine prepared before the flight’s departure. (Photo: Thanh Dang)

Among the 120 infections, it is estimated that there are about 10-15 severe cases who are suffering from underlying diseases. The hospital has planned to prepare ventilators and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) support to adapt to any specific situation.

“All medical staff at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases consider this as a battle, and our medical personnel are like soldiers heading to the front line. Four of our elite medical staff know about the risk of infection on the flight and the dangers of the disease but we will try our best," said Dr. Thach.

According to the hospital leader, the hospital will ensure the isolation distance among all departments as far as possible, with at least 2 metres between patients’ beds.

To serve the treatment for the large number of patients, the hospital has prepared about 100 mechanical ventilators, as well as medicine, equipment and facilities for diagnosis, care and treatment. In particular, the hospital will also put supportive treatment robots into trial run this time.

Dr. Thach said that the hospital has prepared about 250 employees, including medical doctors, security guards and logistics staff to assist each other in separated shifts. All will be isolated right at the hospital to avoid the risk of spreading the disease to the community.

The aircraft before its departure to bring 219 stranded Vietnamese citizens home from Equatorial Guinea.

Doctor Than Manh Hung, Deputy Head of Emergency Department at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, who is directly participating in the special flight, shared that his mission consists of two doctors and two nurses from the department with adequate experience to support the patients.

Because the flight schedule has been pushed earlier than expected, the preparations are more urgent. In recent days, the doctors have focused on assembling devices and rehearsing in the fastest time possible.

Determining the risk of infection as very high, they have devised ways to limit the infection and also identify many possible situations that may occur during the long flight.

Doctors and flight crew members ready for the special rescue mission.

The aircraft cabin will be divided into four separate areas for certain target groups. With the support from the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam and Hanoi University of Science and Technology, a specially designed nylon diaphragm has been set up to separate the four zones.

The rear end of the aircraft will be reserved for SARS-CoV-2-positive patients. The next area is for citizens who have not had a test result or are negative for the coronavirus. The third area is for medical personnel and the last area, at the front of the aircraft, is the crew's working space.

Inside the Airbus A350 plane.

“Patients are screened and classified according to the severity of their medical condition. Severely ill people are given priority to sit in the nearest row of seats in case of an incident to facilitate doctors in giving timely emergency aid,” said Hung.

With the help of the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, there will be a positive pressure room on the plane to prevent infection and assist passengers during their meals on the 15-hour flight from the central African nation to Vietnam.

A special positive pressure room has been installed on the plane to support passengers and prevent infection during the long flight.

Due to the high number of positive patients and the risk of severe disease progressing, the medical equipment carried on the flight is also more special. The mission will bring along additional ventilators, monitors, intubation tubes and oxygen tanks. This equipment will be used to provide timely emergency care in case of patients’ bad situation.

With the aim of ensuring the health and safety for COVID-19 patients returning home, the hospital has also prepared a specific plan.

Accordingly, patients positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be arranged in three separate departments. The hospital has also arranged an additional Emergency Department to recover if necessary, to cope with each patient's evolving circumstances.

As one of the four medical staff joining the special mission, Hung said that it was an honour to be selected by the Ministry of Health and the hospital's Board of Directors to accompany the flight. However, worries cannot be avoided because of the high risk of infection.

Doctor Than Manh Hung, Deputy Head of Emergency Department at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases, is among the four doctors that departed on the special flight to Equatorial Guinea.

"There is a large proportion of positive patients, accounting for more than 50%, with 7-10 seriously ill cases on this flight. We determined that the participants on this trip should have experience in emergency care for patients. All four of us are ready for a worse situation to happen, in which we could be infected. After the trip, we must also comply with medical isolation as required for 14 days before returning to the community to continue caring for our patients," Hung said.

The aircraft departed from Hanoi this morning and is projected to land at the Bata Airport in the Bata City of Equatorial Guinea at 1 pm (local time). It will stay at the airport for about two hours before returning home.