Tourists to Mpumalanga and Limpopo may soon benefit from an exciting new medical initiative that is getting off the ground. The remoteness and isolation of safari lodges makes them an attractive destination for people seeking a bush experience, but means that getting medical help in any kind of emergency situation is often difficult.
The Wilderness Emergency Program, spearheaded by ER Consulting and integrating local and international resources, aims to provide a comprehensive, sustainable solution to this problem.
Nelspruit-based Dr Simon King, one of the directors of the program, has met many survivors of accidents and animal encounters that have occurred in the bush. "The ones that have come out okay have all said 'I was just so lucky' - we want to take the luck out of it." The program has taken the image of an umbrella thorn tree as its logo. "The tree captures the spirit of the program - an umbrella under which many people combine resources to help outcomes, and ensure people have access to the best emergency care."
At present, each organisation has different ways of dealing with emergency situations. Resources such as ambulances and helicopters, as well as medical help, are often sourced in a fragmented way. This means that injured people may not get the best help available. The Wilderness Emergency Program wants to provide a call centre where operators will have information at their fingertips to coordinate a rescue effort, as well as a doctor on hand to give advice over the phone or the internet. Dr King adds that medical help will not be limited to emergency situations. "Any medical need which affects the quality of a tourist's stay must be addressed."
The Wilderness Emergency Program will deal with all phases of emergency events using a comprehensive set of services. The first part of the program will involve a preparation phase, where a facility's in-house resources, communications, protocols and training are assessed and improved. The program will act on behalf of its clients to ensure the most efficient and cost-effective emergency services are available, contracting this to private facilities where possible.
"We have spoken to potential service providers such as ER24, Netcare and the Red Cross Air Mercy Service." Medical needs and emergency events will be handled by a call-in centre and through physician consultations. With an existing database of available medical facilities and a pre-arranged protocol, they will be able to send the fastest and best help in the case of emergencies.
By having an entire system in place that does not rely only on a single service provider, the Wilderness Emergency Program is designed to be sustainable in the long term. Once the program is in place, the type of accidents and their outcomes will be recorded so that more information is available in future for dealing with the commonest types of injuries.
An integral component of the programme is the training of field guides. Despite the fact that South Africa is a growing tourist destination, field guides are not required to learn more than the most basic first aid. This is designed for urban environments, and may not be sufficient to cope with emergencies in the bush. Dr King says that South Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of internationally recognised medical training for field guides.
He hopes to use the expertise of organisations such as the Wilderness Medicine Institute to raise the standards. He says that ideally every field guide would have a basic wilderness medicine qualification, and then one or two individuals in an area would be trained to a higher level and be able to supervise an accident together with a remote emergency physician. "This would bring South Africa online with the rest of the world."