Paraguayan Military Pilots Fly Patients from Remote Areas to Medical Appointments
By Dialogo November 19, 2015Excellent service
Emiliano Reyes waited along with 25 other passengers at the rustic airstrip serving Fuerte Olimpo, a town 800 kilometers northwest of the Paraguayan capital of Asunción.
They were seated in a C-212 Aviocar, an aircraft that's part of the Paraguayan Air Force Transport Service (SETAM the Spanish Acronym) assigned to fly needy patients to Asunción for medical appointments. On Tuesdays and Fridays, SETAM pilots fly the Fuerte Olimpo-Asunción route, which includes stops in remote communities such as Concepción, Puerto Casado, Vallemí, Toro Pampa, and Bahía Negra during its 45-60-minute flight. Since it began this route in September 2013, SETAM has transported 3,600 people and 10 tons of cargo while logging 1,236 hours of flight time.
Reyes is among thousands who have obtained medical services thanks to SETAM pilots and logistical workers. Without this service, he could only get to the capital through a grueling, 18-hour drive -- at a minimum.
“For me, these flights are really useful because I save so much time and get to my destination safely," Reyes said. "Sometimes, heavy rains force roads to close, which means that if you’re going by land, the trip can end up lasting for days."
The C-212 Aviocar can carry 26 passengers, and can operate on unpaved highways and at airports with little infrastructure. Upon landing at Silvio Pettirossi Air Base, the passengers deplaned and Reyes, who was facing possible cataract surgery, reached his doctor's appointment in less than two hours.
“We have exceeded our own projections and expectations for this initiative," said Colonel Edilberto Salinas, SETAM's commander. "The SETAM service was restarted after a 25-year interruption. The two years that SETAM has been active again is in response to the needs of the citizens and to provide them with a public service."
SETAM helps the needy
In cooperation with other institutions -- including the Medical Emergency Center, the Emergency Secretariat, the Volunteer Firefighters of Paraguay, the Paraguayan Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare, and local authorities --
SETAM provies a full range of humanitarian aid. For instance, it transports food and medicine to remote areas and evacuates people threatened by flooding during the rainy season, which begins in November and can last until February. It also operates an ambulance plane equipped with intensive care unit services and other first aid supplies.
“During emergencies, we make an extra effort to bring food, medication, and water to the affected residents. In the event of a drought or when there are forest fires, we work closely with the Volunteer Firefighters of Paraguay,” Col. Salinas said.
The government subsidizes the service, enabling passengers to pay between 250,000 and 300,000 guaraníes (US$45 –US$54) per flight depending on their city of origin. SETAM assists a wide range of passengers, including farmers, indigenous persons, foreign tourists, and ranch owners who employ area residents.
“When people don’t have the means to purchase a ticket, we look at their case and don’t charge them anything," Col. Salinas said. "More than anything else, we are providing a social service for them, and that fills us with pride."