Fast-track US medical aid saves lives in Afghanistan

29th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

At a US hospital base in Germany, doctors and nurses lift a seriously injured soldier from a military plane. It is only hours since he was wounded in Afghanistan and for the medical team trying to save his life every second counts.

The soldier is one of the many to benefit from the rapid treatment provided by the so-called Joint Theater Trauma System (JTTS) developed by the US military as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It aims to save lives by transferring casualties back to the United States -- via the US army's hospital at Landstuhl in southwestern Germany -- as quickly as possible.

"If we compare the injuries that people used to experience in the Gulf war and the injuries that they suffer now, and the way that they arrive here and their survival rates, the improvement is absolutely phenomenal," said Captain Elizabeth Wolfe, head nurse at Landstuhl.

According to Wolfe, the "soldiers are immediately taken care of in the downrange facilities and can be here within 12 to 24 hours. And once they are here, they can be stabilised and send back to the US."

With 2,000 personnel, including 150 doctors, Landstuhl is the biggest American hospital outside the United States.

US soldiers during World War Two had a 22 percent risk of succumbing to a combat injury. That figure fell to 16 percent in Vietnam and to under 10 percent for those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The moment a soldier is wounded the trauma system swings into action. All vehicles and aircraft are equipped with an evacuation kit containing an emergency first aid box and a stretcher that can be assembled in less than a minute.

The second stage sees the wounded airlifted from the battlefield within 60 minutes and treated by advance surgical teams.

"It's the 'golden hour'" said Colonel Raymond Fang, medical director of Landstuhl's trauma service.

"If you can get a bleeding patient into medical care within one hour, many of the patients that have bleedings that can be controlled can be saved."

Within 24 hours, the most seriously injured are transferred to combat support hospitals at the biggest bases in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"They have the specialists, they have the scanners, it's where the fixed-wing aircraft come to transport the patients to Germany," said Fang.

Once on board a plane bound for Landstuhl, close to the US Air Force's Ramstein air base, the wounded are cared for by specially trained teams of medical professionals.

"The Air Force have specially trained air teams: that's the only thing that they do. They do a trip... then they go back downrange to pick up another flight."

At each stage, information on casualties is entered in a log accessible to everyone involved.

"Our goal is to find out as much information as we can about the wounded before they arrive, (so we) can plan for their care," said Fang.

"The transit time alone is enough to reduce the mortality from the injuries. In the best case scenario, people can be back to the United States within 48 to 72 hours. Before the JTTS system, it was probably three to four days, or even longer," he added.

© 2010 AFP

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