Indonesia has overtaken India as Asia’s ‘Covid-19 hotspot’. Kalimantan in the Indonesian part of Borneo is experiencing a surge of cases. In response, MAF has flown out medics, batches of the Sinovac vaccine and coronavirus tests to contain the outbreak…
To date, Indonesia has recorded over 2.4 million coronavirus cases and 64,000 deaths (source: Reuters). According to the BBC, the country is seeing more than 900 Covid-19 deaths per day.
In a bid to slow the deadly spread of the Delta variant, restrictions came into effect from 12July across 15 locations including Kalimantan. Measures include shopping centre and restaurants closures and enforced working from home for non-essential workers.
Health services are reportedly overwhelmed and requests for hospital beds and oxygen tanks have been shared on social media.
On 28 June, MAF flew Malinau Regency’s Director of Health - Dr John, to Long Ampung in northern Kalimantan to help control the outbreak. He was accompanied by several doctors. Batches of China’s Sinovac vaccine and coronavirus test kits were also on board.
Overground travel is too difficult
‘It’s laughable to guess how long it takes to travel by land or river to reach the communities we serve - there are just too many variables.’
MAF Pilot, Jeremy Toews
The distance between Malinau and Long Ampung is 150 miles as the crow flies, which only takes one hour in MAF’s Kodiak aircraft. As there is no road between Malinau and Long Ampung, overground travel would be incredibly difficult as MAF Pilot, Jeremy Toews testifies:
‘From Malinau, you’d have to drive about four hours east to the coast, then about 12 hours south to the river, then take the river back inland for a couple of days depending on the current and when it rained, then travel by four-wheel drive from anywhere between several days to a couple of weeks subject to road conditions, landslides and height of the rivers that you have to cross.
‘Two weeks ago, that 4x4 trail was impassable because the rivers were too high to cross, plus the authorities blocked off all the roads due to the spread of Covid-19.’
Long Ampung has a population of several hundred people and is located within Kayan Selatan District. Although the people of Long Ampung have access to the only health facility in the area, it also serves other communities within its 150-mile radius. Jeremy explains the challenges:
‘The medical service that this “hospital” provides is very limited and certainly not equipped to handle a large-scale outbreak of an infectious disease.’
There is a better equipped hospital in Malinau Regency, so most MAF medevac requests tend to be transfers from the health facility in Long Ampung to the hospital in Malinau.
On 11 July, Jeremy was requested to fly two critical Covid-19 positive patients from Long Ampung to Malinau. Medevacs such as these require robust risk assessments to protect everyone involved. Jeremy continues:
‘We went through all the guidance together, analysed each requirement and determined our level of readiness to undertake such a flight at an acceptable level of mitigated risk. This included risk to the pilot, airstrip ground crew, hangar staff and quarantining considerations for both pilot and aircraft.
‘We created a plastic barrier between the passenger compartment and the cockpit, serviced the oxygen system, covered a couple of air vents to ensure consistent airflow and made sure PPE was available.
‘I'm thankful to be part of this team.’
This is the second time that MAF has delivered the coronavirus vaccine to Kalimantan.
The first batches – accompanied by three medics - were transported on 2 February, which were intended for Kalimantan’s healthcare workers in three separate locations.
A total of 264kg of the coronavirus vaccine was distributed. One medic got off at each location to oversee local distribution. They also carried out checks for temperature and breakages.