God's own country was deluged by the fury of nature delivered through incessant rain and unprecedented flooding. Thousands of people were rendered homeless and a large swath of land was left inundated. Mother nature held nothing back and landed its most vicious punch with merciless ferocity to make people suffer unspeakable misery.
Concerted efforts were made by IAF in rescuing stranded people from the flooded areas. Ladies, children, elderly people and residents were winched from the rooftops of submerged houses to safety by IAF helicopters. IAF helicopters have also dropped off food and water packets to the stranded people in the affected areas. Transport aircraft from all corners of the country have been flying day and night to ensure relief material is available in the relief camps. Medical teams from Southern Air Command and Training Command have been deployed at various places to provide medical assistance. In addition, No 1 Rapid Action Medical Team (RAMT) has been airlifted from Command Hospital Air Force Bengaluru to Thiruvananthapuram to assist in the medical relief efforts to the residents of Kerala. RAMT has the capability to provide both medical and surgical emergency medical care. Additionally, 119 Doctors with 63 T of medicine and equipment have been airlifted to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram for further positioning at various medical camps.
On 18 Aug 18, two mobile medical teams were inserted into medical relief operations and they were followed by eight more medical teams within the next two days. These ten mobile medical teams were deployed in some of the most devastated parts of the state. Nine medical assistants, who were on leave in their hometowns across Kerala, voluntarily joined the medical relief efforts at a time when their own families were reeling under the impact of natural calamity of gigantic proportion. This act of service beyond the call of duty was one of many incredible deeds of loyalty, courage and dedication to the noble profession, carried out by members of medical teams of the IAF that were deployed across Kerala in its worst hour.
The availability of volunteer medical assistants ensured that each of the mobile medical teams had a Malayalam speaking person and this neutralised the linguistic barrier and extended outreach to the people who knew no language other than their mother tongue. These medical teams waded through stagnant water, walked through tall grass and jungles infested with dangerous animals, travelled on boats through streets turned into rivers and villages transformed into lakes, and worked under the gloomy sky which stubbornly refused to relent. Patients were treated in their homes, on rooftops, on boats, in temples and churches or any places where these medical teams could pitch themselves even for a brief period.
The worst affected people were the aged and children who were not only deprived of nutrition but also many had not had their prescribed medication for chronic illness like bronchial asthma, IHD, hypertension, diabetes etc. A large number of people were carrying various kinds of infections that required immediate medical intervention. The mobile teams conducted ad hoc OPDs, took care of the sick and provided all the medicines required by them including the prophylactic medicine to prevent diseases associated with flooding and stagnated water. These mobile medical teams not only provided medical relief but also the emotional succour to people left stunned by the wrath of nature. Some medical teams also had lady doctors to ensure that the female patients feel at ease while discussing their medical problems.
On 22 Aug 18, No.1 Rapid Action Medical Team (1 RAMT) from Command Hospital, Bengaluru was flown into the thick of on-going medical effort to expand the scope of medical relief in Op Karuna. The team was deployed at Chethankery near Thiruvalla and had set up a ten bedded hospital in a community hall. This team has a medical specialist, two medical officers and is well equipped to provide routine and emergency medical care.
On 24 Aug 18, the IAF inducted No.3 Rapid Action Medical team (3 RAMT) from AF Station Hindon, into Op Karuna to further augment the medical relief effort. 3 RAMT has a surgical team, a Paediatrician and two other doctors. It is equipped with a mini laboratory, operation theatre and other major medical equipment to provide life saving medical care. Initially 3 RAMT established a 10 bedded hospital at Alappuzha. Subsequently, on 31 Aug, it was relocated to Ramankery, Kuttanad.
Both these RAMTs provided life saving treatment to a large number of patients in flood ravaged regions.
The ten mobile teams and 1 RAMT were gradually withdrawn by 30 Aug 18. However 3 RAMT continued to provide medical care till 14 Sep 18 when it was finally withdrawn on the advice of state Govt. All these medical teams together provided treatment to over 7300 patients during their medical relief operations in flood affected parts of Kerala.
This enormous humanitarian effort was deeply appreciated by the people of Kerala and also the State Govt. The commendable professionalism and commitment displayed by the medical personnel under trying circumstances found several worthy mentions in local media.
Op Karuna was a massive HADR (Humanitarian Assisted Disaster Relief) mission. The enormity of this overwhelming natural catastrophe tested not only the professional skills & conduct of the medical personnel to the core, but also the endurance, the commitment and the courage of conviction that we can do it. The IAF came out on top of what it had set out to achieve during the mission, and the success of this endeavour under difficult circumstances is a living tribute to the medical personnel of the IAF for their excellent professionalism, outstanding preparedness and inspirational leadership.