Karnataka CM inaugurates Air Ambulance Service

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Bengaluru-based ICATT Kyathi’s integrated air ambulance services was inaugurated by Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa and the entire top brass of the Karnataka Government including two Deputy CMs, health minister, medical education minister and tourism minister at Jakkur Aerodrome on Tuesday.

Dubbed as South India’s first, as a part of this service, a fixed-wing aircraft (in plain English, an airplane), a helicopter and a land ambulance will be stationed at HAL Airport on Old Airport Road here for emergency shifting of critically ill patients.

But the nagging question is making the service financially viable for the needy. The air transfer of a Covid-19 patient recently in a negative pressure controlled German isolation pod from Kolkata to Chennai by ICATT Kyathi costed Rs 15 lakh to Rs 20 lakh totally paid for by the patient.

A recent transfer of a patient with leg infection from Ballari to Bengaluru costed Rs 2.5 lakh, again paid for by the patient. International Critical Air Transfer Team (ICATT) has this year alone so far completed 63 domestic transfers, 10 international transfers, and seven organ transfers. The city-based company on its part wants the service to be completely funded by the government and wants it to appoint a nodal officer on whose directions they can transfer patients.

CM B S Yediyurappa and Deputy CM Ashwath Narayan were rather non-committal in their answers.

The CM while inaugurating the medical service said, “The introduction of a German isolation pod has enabled safe transfer of Covid-19 patients via air ambulances. I assure, we will commence air ambulance services soon, to serve the needy.”

Dr Rahul Singh Sardar, an anesthetist and critical care specialist, who is the co-founder and Director of ICATT, told DH, “We were very close to getting commitments from various state governments before the Covid-19 pandemic started. But everything stalled because the government had other priorities. We will be revisiting all those governments, starting with the Karnataka government to help us. We want complete subsidy and a government-funded air ambulance. We want it to be completely controlled by them.”

This is where the CM and other ministers have promised support, especially in the northern part of Karnataka, he added.

“Each piece of medical equipment (the ventilators and monitors) inside are Rs 40 lakh to Rs. 45 lakh. In all, the medical equipment notwithstanding the helicopter, costs crore rupees. It is capital intensive but we cannot compromise on the care of critical patients. The German isolation pod for Covid-19 patients costs Rs. 20 lakh each. We have two, we have ordered four more. We hope to get CSR funding and donations from charities,” he said.

During the 2018 Kerala floods, the company in fact made social media announcements that if anyone donates Rs. 1 lakh, they can save one life with the help of their helicopter.

So far ICATT Kyathi has managed to convince four pilots to fly Covid-19 patients. “No pilot was ready to fly Covid-19 patients. So we had to get the isolation pod. Even after that, they insisted on a barrier between the patient and the cockpit. Currently, the cockpit is not a closed environment. The pilots are either commercial or are ex-IAF. So far we’ve convinced four pilots to fly.”

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