Virginia doctors treat Afghan evacuees on flights overseas

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Some Virginia doctors are taking their skills to the skies as the United States continues to safely evacuate Afghans.

Dozens of doctors with the Medical Society of Virginia have volunteered to provide care to Afghan evacuees on flights while traveling overseas. Sen. Mark Warner requested help from the Medical Society of Virginia in late August after realizing people on flights from Afghanistan were sick.

Dr. Art Saavedra, the Chief of Population Health and Health Policy at the University of Virginia and a board member for the Medical Society of Virginia, said 60 doctors jumped at the opportunity to treat patients on flights.

“At the end of the day, we were all doctors trying to answer the call of basic human medical necessity,” he said.

United Airlines has had two flights a day and up to 350 Afghan passengers on flights from the U.S. to Qatar and Germany. Dr. Saavedra said medical staff is mostly treating passengers with dehydration from their time spent at military bases in severe heat.

“Patients were getting weaker and sicker,” he said. “No longer was only a medic necessary on a flight, but we actually needed physicians on board to help transit from the various bases into D.C. or Philadelphia.”

Now each trip has a team with a medic, a physician and an interpreter including the flight staff. However, Saavedra said the Afghan evacuees need more than just medical attention.

“We’re dealing with a group of people that must be frightened and then again the anxiety of, God, such a phenomenal transition socially would be a difficult undertaking for anybody,” he said.

Because the need is still great, Saavedra expects another month of round-trip flights to bring thousands more Afghans to the U.S.

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