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Ebola and State Dept. Handling of Medical Flight Contract: Did Things Go Wrong?


Did you know that the US State Department and CDC had been maintaining air ambulances with high-tech infection containment systems since about a decade? Sounds like great preparedness to transport patients when contagious diseases like Ebola hit us, doesn’t it? Here’s the catch. When the actual Ebola epidemic took the world by surprise, these medical necessities were packed up in a warehouse in Georgia.

What is the Containment System in the Medical Flight All About?

The containment structure that looks like a tent is called the Aeromedical Biological Containment System. Today, it is used by Phoenix Air, which transports Ebola patients from West Africa. The containment system was designed between 2007 and 2010 taking the SARS scare into consideration. CDC and Phoenix Air had designed the system so that it can fit into a medical flight.

Supposedly, $15 million were paid to the company, mostly as retainer fee between 2005 and 2011. The idea was that the modified medical flight could be used during epidemic emergencies. It was fitted to a Gulfstream jet air ambulance. The medical flight service was kept on standby so that it can be put into action on a moment’s notice.

Why was the Medical Flight with Containment System not put into Use on Time?

The containment unit was not used after it was designed as there was never a necessity. So, ultimately, CDC decided that paying a retainer amount to Phoenix Air was an unnecessary expense and the containment system was shelved in 2011. More intriguing was the fact that no inquiries were made about the equipment that can be fitted to the medical flight even when the Ebola scare had risen to epic proportions and several American rescue workers were fighting the virus in West Africa. It was only in August that this medical flight was brought back into action.

The medical flight is currently on a 24/7 alert. It is believed that evacuations have been more than three a month on average. Although the reasons given for the delay in bringing the medical flight service back have varied across different government departments and CDC, the return has been a welcome one for the Americans fighting Ebola in West Africa.

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