El Tiempo
June 28, 2023

This is the 'air hospital' that provides free healthcare in remote areas of Colombia.

In the air, they resemble a military squadron. There are between 10 and 15 planes per mission. Small, with four passengers. The models vary: Cirrus SR22, Piper PA-31 Navajo, or Beechcraft Bonanza, are some of them. Pilots, doctors, and a couple of technical support personnel are on board. Their destination is some disconnected municipality, amidst the jungle or desert, near the sea or mountains, it doesn't matter.

The Colombian Civil Air Patrol (PAC) has been doing the same thing for 57 years: medical brigades in remote areas of the country. In destinations like Bahía Solano, Chocó; Timbiquí, Cauca; or Orocué, Casanare. They are literally a "mobile air hospital." That is why on June 6th, they received recognition from the Carlos Slim Foundation. The distinction, awarded to them in 2021 in the Exceptional Institution category, recognizes those non-profit institutions dedicated to improving the health of the Latin American population. 

The prize—$100,000—had already been awarded to them in 2021, but due to the pandemic, the formal recognition could only be made this year. With these funds, the PAC carried out three free brigades, attended to 1,789 people in conditions of poverty or extreme poverty, and acquired a new anesthesia machine for surgical brigades.

Entrega de la distinción en la categoría Institución Excepcional 2021 a la PAC en los Premios en Salud de la Fundación Carlos Slim.

This isn't the first award they've received. They have already been recognized with the King of Spain Prize for Human Rights, the Prize, and the Alejandro Ángel Escobar Prize.

As Pamela Estrada Ocampo, general director of the PAC, explains, the organization has been working for over half a century to bring health to regions where access is complex, and although they currently carry out one brigade per month, the goal for this year is to double that number and provide care every 15 days.

Jornada de salud en Guapi

“La Patrulla Aérea Civil Colombiana son la única opción que tienen de recibir salud miles de personas en zonas apartadas de Colombia”, señala Estrada. Pero hacerlo no es sencillo (ni barato). La logística de llevar al menos 10 aviones a pistas de aterrizaje que no están en las mejores condiciones y de coordinar al menos a 50 personas es compleja.

Currently, about 70 private pilots and over 300 healthcare professionals are voluntary members of the Colombian Civil Air Patrol (PAC). It is they, this duo, who are responsible for carrying out medical or surgical brigades, where surgeries, specialized consultations, interventions, examinations, or medical prescriptions are offered, all free of charge.

To carry out these campaigns, the PAC obtains funds from companies, NGOs, and even governments, willing to support the provision of healthcare to those most in need. Over these 57 years, thanks to these funds, they have attended to 99,183 individuals, with 251,308 medical consultations, 9,350 surgeries, and 51,520 treatments. For the director of the PAC, beyond all of this, the greatest satisfaction comes from the displays of affection they receive from people every time a brigade ends.

"The Colombian Civil Air Patrol is the only option for thousands of people in remote areas of Colombia to receive healthcare."

"Something that is very valuable to us is the recognition, affection, and trust that the communities we serve have for us. We enter practically any territory in Colombia, and the communities welcome us, respect us, and await our return," she emphasizes.

Jornada de salud en Guapi

The PAC has been present not only in the most remote areas of the country but also during the most critical moments in its history: during the tragedy of Armero in November 1985, the earthquake in the Coffee Axis region in January 1999, the natural disaster in Mocoa in April 2017, or the Hurricane Iota that affected Providencia in November 2021. More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the PAC also supported the government by distributing supplies throughout the country to address the emergency.

But there is still much to be done, asserts Estrada, and for that, volunteers are needed. "We invite all individuals who want to be part of the Civil Air Patrol, whether as volunteers or if it's a company that wants to join our cause, to visit our website. There are many ways to get involved and join the Civil Air Patrol," concludes the director.