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I gaze out the window of the helicopter and watch the Nile as it weaves through the green and grey land below. There are no signs of towns or cities, just land and water. It is a beautiful view and for the moment I forget about the devastation and despair that may be lying below.
The flight I’m taking is to a remote village in South Sudan to pick up wounded patients and transport them to one of ICRC’s surgical facilities to receive care. Today I travel by helicopter, as there is no landing strip for a plane. The helicopter cannot fit as many wounded people as a plane and I may have to leave some patients behind. I hope that we are able to take all the critical patients and, if needed, can return again tomorrow.
"They are desperate"
We land in a village no different from the many others I have visited in South Sudan. Being dry season, the ground is arid and dusty. Tukuls (traditional houses made of mud) are scattered around the landing strip, cows congregate in various positions and, as always, the welcoming party of children is there to greet us.
After disembarking the helicopter, I meet with the medical officer in the area and make my way to where the wounded wait. I quickly assess the patients and decide which ones we will transport today. With the help of some of the young men gathered around, we bring the patients to the chopper and prepare them for the flight. I explain to the medical officer in the area that although we cannot fit everyone today, there will hopefully be another flight tomorrow. He understands and explains my message to the community.
As I leave he asks if I can bring more supplies next time - they do not even have simple dressing products. The nearest health facility is over seven hours away on foot and at the moment it is not safe to walk there. They are desperate.
Their only chance of survival
After an hour-long flight, we touch down in Maiwut. The ICRC supports Maiwut hospital. Due to heavy fighting in recent weeks, the hospital is hugely exceeding its capacity. Two surgical teams work around the clock to tend to the wounded and the wards are overflowing with patients and caretakers. I hand over the patients to my colleagues and let them know to expect more patients tomorrow. It is an unnecessary thing to say: as the fighting continues, more wounded will always be expected.
This is not an unusual day in South Sudan. Conflict continues throughout the country and with no roads, no means of transport and a desperate lack of health facilities, for many who are wounded their only chance of survival is to be taken by an ICRC medevac to one of our facilities to receive urgent medical care.