Flying Medical Services Around the World


Air Medical Service is a wide-ranging term, which uses air transportation to carry patients from one place to the other for healthcare benefits. To define it in other words, flying medical service is generally an organization that is run for no profit and wherein a full-time team of expert doctors and nurses come forward voluntarily to provide remedial and health-related education services to people. The aim of flying medical service is to provide pre-hospital care and high-level of medical attention to patients in emergency. Furthermore, it aims to provide medical facilities to people devoid of the regular health care treatments, living in remote places where roads just do not exist. This service first dates back to World War I and eventually it was extended during the Vietnam and Korean clashes. It then consequently spread through different countries.

How it first started
Rev John Flynn, superintendent of the Presbyterian Church for the Australian Inland mission first thought of providing medical service of this type because he could see the day-to-day struggle of the spearheads and two doctors involved in providing medical care at faraway places of nearly two million sq km. Therefore, in 1928 he shaped his dream into reality by opening Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service at Cloncurry, Queensland. Then, in the coming years it spread across the country.

  • Victoria
    The Australian Aerial Medical Services of the Victorian Section, which later became Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was the first to be established in 1934. Since Victoria has no outback, the benefactors of the Presbyterian church and the masses decided upon providing flying medical services in Kimberley, Western Australia. It is a sparsely populated region, though, it is double the size of Victoria.

    Soon the service opened in other regions like at Wyndham (NorthWest of Australia) in 1935, New South Wales in 1936 and then, finally at Tasmania (the island state of Australia) in 1960, even though medical flights for emergency were functional in Tasmania long before. However, the first hospital-based flying medical service started in 1972 at Denver’s St. Anthony hospital.

Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia/First Official Air Ambulance Service

  • What is Air Ambulance?
    Air ambulance, also called Medevac and Aeromedical Evacuation is a specially equipped airplane designed for the purpose of transporting sick or injured people in case of a medical exigency. In other words, it does everything that the usual ground ambulance would do, i.e, providing specialized care, attention, and medical excellence to patients, outside the conventional set up of a hospital. Stretchers, ventilators, ECGs, and CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) equipment are the obvious requirements in an air ambulance.

The first official air ambulance service operating round-the-clock began with 50 flights, in its initial phase and continued through some tough phases (post-war Australia and the Great Depression in 1930s). Though the organization has become self-sufficient as it now has its own equipment and hiring its own mechanics and pilots, it however, is aided by the Commonwealth, State, and Territory Governments and dependent upon donations and fundraising from the society. It rose to success in 1932 after Cloncurry Operations (region affected by the depression during the 1930s) and resulted in giving encouragement for a nationwide network of flying doctors.

Flying Doctors Service in East Africa
There were three surgeons: Sir Archibald McIndoe ( from New Zealand), Sir Michael Wood (from UK), and Tom Rees (from America), who in 1956 thought of a remarkable idea of providing special health care service comprising of reconstructive surgery and medical evacuation facility to people living in remote areas of East Africa. Thats how in 1957, the Flying Doctors Service of East Africa or AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation) came into existence. It has now gained over 50 years of experience in health improvement and in breaking the vicious cycle of ill health and deprivation. At the present time, its program is functional in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal, and South Africa. Consulting and training assistance are extended to an extra 30 countries of Africa.

AMREF Flying Doctors provide various services, which include, Air Evacuation Services in medical exigencies in East Africa, Support Services for patients and their families, Assistance Services to global insurance providers under a contractual acquiescence, First Aid Courses for corporates, organizations, and tour operators, and under special conditions conducting Charity Evacuations for those who cannot afford their Maisha air ambulance cover or Maisha annual plan medical cover (“Maisha” stands for “life”, an annual plan to have access to AMREF flying doctors services in Kenya). They are also the key service provider of air ambulance in Africa operating in Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burundi, and Rwanda.

Flying Medical Service in Tanzania, East Africa
In 1983, the flying medical service at Arusha airport, Tanzania that functions through two well-equipped Cessna 206 aircraft came into existence. Like the other flying medical services, the Tanzanian government also decided to provide flying medical facilities to people living in remote places, devoid of any kind of medical attention and treatment.

Even the government has given the organization certain crucial exemptions so as to provide services at an affordable price to the underprivileged section of Tanzania. It is laudable that it reaches out to those who are divorced from the society at large and works irrespective of any bias on the basis of religion, ability to pay, etc.

First civil air medical service in Northern Africa
Marie Marvingt, who was the French athlete, aviator, mountaineer, and journalist founded the first civil air ambulance facility in Morocco, Northern Africa in 1934. She became the pioneer and was also awarded the Medal of Peace of Morocco for the same. Interestingly, she was not only an illustrious athlete who won several prizes in shooting, swimming, fencing, ski jumping, etc., but also worked as a Red Cross nurse. Eventually in 1935, she was certified as the first person to become a Flight nurse.

Besides these, she also created two documentary films that were based on the history, progress and use of air ambulances: Wings which Save and Saved by the Dove. The Flying Ambulance Corps led by women pilots, trained doctors, and nurses meant to rescue the injured from the battleground was a crucial development in this regard. She died on 14 December 1963 at Laxou, France. Even in her honour, France issued an air mail stamp on 29 June 2004.

Schaefer Air Service in US
In 1947, J. Walter Schaefer founded in Los Angeles, US, the first air ambulance service. It was also the first FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certified air ambulance facility in the US. Today, airplanes and helicopters in the United States transport nearly half a million patients every year. The Department of Transportation also conducted an experiment, to consider the viability of using military airplanes in order to ameliorate and expand the existing civilian flying medical services. It then established the need for creating more such services.

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in US
    It is a national aviation authority in the US. Federal Aviation Agency was formed under the 1958 Federal Aviation Act. The current name, i.e, Federal Aviation Administration was adopted by the organization in 1966 and it became a part of the United States Department of Transportation. It is responsible for the development of air traffic control, encouraging new technologies and developments in civil aeronautics, issuing or suspending pilot certificates, and most importantly, ensuring safety by directing civil aviation.

Ornge in North America operates the most sophisticated and the biggest program of aeromedical services. Its persistent mobile care units present in fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters carry more than 19,000 patients per year. Moreover, Ornge is the key provider of organ carrier services for Ontario-based organ transplant patients in North America.

EMSOS: India’s leading Air Ambulance Service Provider
EMSOS, the notable medical assistance and air ambulance company that provides retrieval and recuperation to critically wounded and ill people on jetliners and planes with a medical team across the world. Their staff and equipment is situated in New Delhi, India. They provide medical care and assistance matching international standards handled by qualified and highly experienced team.

They have the latest “State-of-the-art” equipment that provides if required ICU facility on commercial flights. Its air ambulance facilities in India: Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Patna, Punjab, Noida, Gurgaon, Goa, Pune, Bengluru, Kolkata, Odisha, etc.

Air Ambulance Services in UK
United Kingdom has 27 air ambulance services operating either through fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. Commercial companies operate 36 helicopters supported by charitable organizations, covering Wales and England. On the other hand, Scottish Ambulance Service operates through two fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and the air wing is the only publicly financed air ambulance in the United States. Here are the names of some of the air ambulances in the UK: Cornwall Air Ambulance, Devon Air Ambulance Trust, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, Kent Air Ambulance, etc.

Saskatchewan Air Ambulance Service in Canada
It was after the second world war when many fliers after coming back home were at a look out for work in aviation. So the situation post-war was a compelling reason for introducing health improvement programs, working conditions, education, and economic state in the province. Also, the population in Saskatchewan were mostly destitute and even the weather was not favourable and there were a few hospitals to cater to their needs.

Therefore, Saskatchewan Air Ambulance Service began in Canada in 1947. Despite all the hindrances that it faced initially, it has nonetheless proved a boon to its people. The service is 24 hours available and can be accessed within 30 minutes of emergency. But, it charges a certain amount for air ambulance service, which is $350 for each flight. Also, the Royal Canadian Air Force performs rescue and search service for Indians and Eskimos in the Arctic.

Therefore, the flying medical services are gaining importance over the virtual hospitals especially in the rural and tribal places where fully developed medical facilities are not available.

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