Doctors alert air travellers to health checks

People with breathing problems or who recently underwent surgery should declare their health condition to their airline when booking a flight. 

Apia-based Doctors, Sala Dr. Judith Esmay Ah Leong and Dr. Osborne Nyandiva both agreed in interviews with the Samoa Observer that if declared to cabin crew, there is a higher chance of getting appropriate treatment, if there is an inflight emergency.

Dr. Ah Leong, who is a general practitioner at the Samoa Healthcare Medical Clinic, said every passenger should decide for themselves how well they can look after themselves during a flight before flying.

People need to be aware of which health conditions are vulnerable while flying, as the body’s reaction to the high altitude can affect them.

“For a healthy passenger, the low oxygen at high altitude has little effect. However, this is different from a passenger who has anaemia or severe lung condition or heart condition,” Dr Ah Leong said.

Most airlines, like Air New Zealand and Samoa Airways, require passengers to declare their medical condition 48 hours before travelling, in accordance with International Air Transport Association (IATA) standards.

If a medical declaration is made at the time of booking, further steps can be taken to ensure the passenger’s safety on board, and that of their fellow travellers.

“Doctors are only required to examine a patient for ‘fit to fly’ when they are referred by the passengers’ agent/airline at the time of booking,” Dr Ah Leong explained.

“A passenger has to declare their condition and if this is included in the medical lists for further medical review, and doctor’s clearance then a passenger undergoes further examination, and a form has to be filled out by their medical doctor (MEDA2) to state whether the passenger is fit or not.   

Ultimately, the final decision comes from the airline’s medical advisory team.”

Some passengers fly for medical treatment and may be allowed to fly with a medical escort, or with other provisions and hospital transfers arranged for when the flights land, added Dr Ah Leong.

She said while there may be various reasons people are not declaring their medical condition, perhaps more information on when to declare could help passengers in their decision making.

“If it is lack of information, let’s provide information in a way that is easier to remember.  Informing the public, using this forum (newspaper) is one way but discussing this also on the Morning Show of TV1 with Sioeli and the crew is another way,” she added. 

These are some of the diseases that are deemed declarable: anaemia of severe degree; severe cases of otitis media and sinusitis; acute, contagious or communicable disease; those suffering from congestive cardiac failure or other cyanotic conditions not fully controlled; uncomplicated myocardial infarction within 2 weeks of onset complicated MI within 6 weeks of onset; those suffering severe respiratory disease or recent pneumothorax; those with GI lesions which may cause hematemesis, melaena or intestinal obstruction. 

And post-operative cases: within 10 days of simple abdominal operations; within 21 days of chest or invasive eye surgery (not laser); fractures of the mandible with fixed wiring of the jaw (unless medically escorted); unstable mental illness without escort and suitable medication for the journey; uncontrolled seizures unless medically escorted; uncomplicated single Pregnancies beyond the end of the 36th week or multiple pregnancies beyond end of the 32nd week; infants within 7 days of birth; introduction of air to body cavities for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes within 7 days. 

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