Health ministry considers repatriating British pilot after being treated for coronavirus

May 21, 2020 - 17:24

“The patient remains in a coma and still relies on ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) for survival, so we need to wait until the patient is awake and recovers, then we can make an appropriate plan,” the health official remarked. 


National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control convened a meeting on Thursday in Hà Nội. — VNA/VNS Photo Văn Điệp

HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam’s most critically ill COVID-19 patient, a British pilot, has now been deemed to be coronavirus-free, and the health ministry is considering the option of bringing him back to the UK for further care depending on his condition. 

Assoc. Prof. Lương Ngọc Khuê, Director of the Medical Examination and Treatment Management Department under the health ministry, made the announcement at Thursday's meeting of the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control. 

The 43-year-old British pilot working for national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines, identified as the country’s Patient No. 91, has tested negative six times for the novel strain of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. A sample of the virus taken from the patient and cultivated in the HCM City Pasteur Institute shows that he has developed immunity and won’t get reinfected by the virus. 

Chợ Rẫy Hospital in HCM City has received the patient from the HCM City Hospital for Tropical Diseases, where he has been treated since he was confirmed to be positive for the virus in mid-March, to continue providing intensive care, treat his underlying conditions, and manage the infections. 

The patient will receive frequent consultations from the leading medical experts of the country to determine the optimal time to carry out a lung transplant operation, as his lung functions have deteriorated and he remains on life support. 

Khuê said via the UK embassy in Việt Nam, the health ministry has not been able to contact any of the patient's direct relatives. They have received information about a relative of the patient in the UK, but there has not yet been any response regarding the patient's treatment and possible repatriation, given that organ transplant can only be conducted with the relative's consent as long as the patient remains unconscious.

Khuê said that a foreign doctor working in medical transport in Việt Nam has contacted him and volunteered to bring the patient back to the UK, but the matter is being considered by the health ministry's leadership. The patient reportedly has no insurance, but the costs for a lung transplant is already covered by donations from a benefactor organisation.

In just a week, more than 59 people – the oldest 76 years old, and the youngest 21 years old – have come forward to register to donate their lungs for the patient following reports of doctors looking at the possibility of a lung transplant to save his life, Khuê said, adding that this showcases the spirit of solidarity and compassion of the Vietnamese people. 

“We are touched and grateful for the goodwill gestures of those who want to donate their organ, but this patient requires the whole two sides of the lung and not just a part of the lung so we are looking for a brain-dead donor,” Khuê continues. 

Another option on the table is to repatriate the patient since he is now treated of COVID-19, but there are many complicating issues that may render the plan infeasible. 

“The patient remains in a coma and still relies on ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) for survival, so we need to wait until the patient is awake and recovers, then we can make an appropriate plan,” the health official remarked. 

So far, the treatment for the British pilot has lasted two months and three days, with the patient needing to be placed on life support for 46 days. 

The latest CT scan of the patient’s lungs show they have improved by about 20-30 per cent, while the patient’s pulse and blood pressure have stabilised. 

All critical cases treated 

With the British pilot now virus free, all critical COVID-19 cases in Việt Nam have been successful treated, and there have been no deaths so far, Khuê continued. 

He also commented on another serious patient in the country, an 88-year-old woman (Patient No. 161) who suffered from cerebral haemorrhage prior to getting infected with SARS-CoV-2 but has been given the all-clear for the virus after treatment at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hà Nội. 

She was then transferred to Bạch Mai Hospital and has also been released from medical care after her situation improved, Khuê told the press. 

COVID-19 Patient No.19, the aunt of the country’s Patient No.17 who marked the second wave of imported cases in Việt Nam in early March after a lull of no new cases when China’s Wuhan remained the world’s epicentre, who suffered from three episodes of cardiac arrest during treatment has also now recovered well. 

She is undergoing physical therapy and is soon to be discharged from the hospital, he noted. 

Managing borders

Regarding the specially arranged repatriation flight bringing 299 Vietnamese home from Thailand, the committee announced that all of them have tested negative for the virus. They were, however, still quarantined on arrival. 

For the repatriation flight from the US, CDC Hà Nội said that all 25 cabin members have tested negative for the virus. 

The health ministry has also responded to the increasing number of requests from foreign-invested manufacturers in Việt Nam and local administrations to allow the entries of foreign experts and technicians into the country to ensure production progress, as the country’s border remains tightly shut against foreigners to prevent imported cases. 

In the procedure, the companies with special entry requests make their case to the provincial or municipal authorities – only technicians and experts are allowed, not low skilled workers. Then the local authorities compile and submit the list to the public security ministry, who will discuss the matter with the transport ministry to arrange the flights, while quarantine sites are prepared. — VNS