By Andrea Kirsten-Coleman The name says it all. Airborne Lifeline Foundation is a lifeline for women in remote areas of Zambia and Botswana. The flying medical service transports doctors, nurses, medical equipment, and supplies to remote sites in sub-Saharan Africa supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Starting in September 2014, Airborne Lifeline is now carrying supplies (and, eventually medical personnel) to allow more women in Botswana and Zambia to have access to screening and treatment for cervical cancer under Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. Founded in 2005 by Johnathan Miller, former Peace Corps Director in Botswana, Airborne Lifeline began its first flights in 2007, to transport specialist doctors and other health care professionals from the capital city, Gaborone, to regional clinics around the country. Since its inception, the organization has flown health workers who have treated thousands of patients, as well as shipped thousands of pounds of medications. Airborne Lifeline has recently concluded an agreement to bring cryotherapy equipment (and other supplies used to screen and treat cervical cancer) to several far-flung clinics that are part of the expansion of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon activities in the country through the Government of Botswana and the Botswana-University of Pennsylvania Partnership. With a recent expansion into Zambia (in conjunction with Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partner Project Concern International), Airborne Lifeline also is now helping supplies reach clinics at remote Zambia Defense Force bases around the country. In some cases, these clinics are the only medical facilities that serve remote villages. While some of the advantages of transportation by air are obvious —getting care and supplies to people quickly— Airborne Lifeline’s service has numerous other benefits:
- Travel by air requires only a few hours, which allows health workers to see more women on each trip.
- Many of the health care professionals are from the outlying regions, and are trusted by patients living in the remote areas.
- Cars that would otherwise transport staff can be deployed for other more pressing needs.
- Return flights help to bring back the following to the Ministry of Health in the capital for immediate attention: reports, broken equipment, requests for urgent supplies and other needs, and sometimes, patients who need advanced care;
- Nitrous oxide tanks, used for cryotherapy treatment to remove pre-cancerous cervical lesions, arrive at their destination filled, rather than depleted from leaks as they bounce along bumpy roads. Road trips can result in as much as a third less gas being available to treat women once the tanks arrive.