MAF Tanzania Chief Pilot and Director of Operations Kirstein Combrink shares his account of the positive outcome of a difficult decision the team had to make during the Covid crisis.
“Since October 2019, Haydom Hospital has asked us to fly an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist and a dermatologist from Arusha each month, on the day we fly there for the week of clinics that make up the Haydom Medical Safari. These doctors would work at the hospital for those few days, and then return to Arusha on the flight with us on the Friday afternoon. Generally they would see patients from Tuesday to Thursday, and the ENT doctor would schedule surgeries for the Friday morning.
However due to the uncertainty building around Covid-19, when it was time for the April safari we weren’t even sure if we should take them, as all indicators seemed to suggest that it would become more difficult to fly people from the larger cities such as Arusha to smaller places. After some deliberation, we eventually decided that we would take them, and we would revaluate the situation in May.
During that safari, when I saw the ENT specialist Dr Shija at the hospital canteen on the Tuesday evening, he shared that the team in Haydom had been waiting for him to do an urgent operation on a patient with a breathing problem. ‘There was a lady who has HIV and had developed an airway obstruction,’ he explained. ‘I did a tracheostomy procedure (a surgical opening of her trachea) to let her breathe through a device put in her throat. If it had been delayed by even just a few more hours, it is likely she would have suffocated.’
As it turned out, that April safari was the last time we could fly them for a while; we were unable to take the specialists to Haydom between May and August because of Covid-19 restrictions. Yet in spite of limitations, we have still been able to do all our monthly Haydom clinics (except in June) and they continue to have high impact. From January to September this year over 10,000 pregnant women and mothers with babies have received care.”
As Haydom hospital has no full-time ENT surgeon, these one week per month visits are the only opportunity for people to be treated, and in this case, the treatment proved to be not only timely but lifesaving. Dr Shija recently updated Kirstein on the patient, saying that she is doing well; we are grateful to be able to support him and the rest of the staff at Haydom, which provides such a valuable service to isolated people in Tanzania.