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Virginia doctors volunteer to treat Afghan refugees: ‘This is our calling’

Virginia doctors volunteer to treat Afghan refugees: ‘This is our calling’
Posted at 5:04 PM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 18:46:05-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Doctors with the Medical Society of Virginia (MSV) haven’t stopped helping strangers even after an exhausting year and a half treating Virginians during the coronavirus pandemic.

MSV President Dr. Art Vayer said their members quickly responded after calls for help came from United Airlines and Sen. Mark Warner to help staff flights with medical professionals carrying hundreds of desperate and fleeing Afghan refugees.

More than 60 physicians and physician assistants volunteered overnight to help the mission.

A physician is assigned to one of seven flights traveling from Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia to Frankfurt, Germany and then Doha, Qatar. In all, five physicians and one nurse practitioner have deployed.

“They were basically working nonstop,” Dr. Vayer explained. “Flights had about 340 people and on each flight suffering from a variety of ailments. Of course, the number one ailment they were suffering some was dehydration from waiting on the tarmac in Qatar at 110, 115 degrees.”

The 36-hour flights began Wednesday and two final flights are scheduled to leave on Saturday.

Andrew Densmore, political advocacy manager with MSV, said many of the flights carry newborns, infants, children and older individuals with varying ailments.

“There is a stomach flu going straight through so many of the infants there. The situation on board is quite urgent and these doctors are in continuing care for every single individual,” he said.

The medical professionals and Afghan refugees land in Philadelphia when they return.

Sen. Tim Kaine said Ft. Lee in Prince George County has served as the main processing center in the United States for the refugees since July 28.

“Virginia is one of the largest five states in terms where Afghans, SIVs (Special Immigrant Visa) who have come in the last 20 years have settled. So many likely will stay in Virginia, particularly northern Virginia. But they will settle in communities all over the US,” Kaine said.

Ft. Pickett in Nottoway County and Quantico are also helping families who escaped the only country they’ve ever known.

“In Virginia, these bases are being used for essentially short-term processing. It might be six days. It might be 12 days,” Kaine explained. “But the idea is, make sure you’re medically screened, get appropriate vaccinations, and medical care for any acute need. And second, make sure you’ve embarked on the process to normalize your immigration status.”

Dr. Vayer said MSV can’t turn someone away who asks for help.

“This is kind of what we do,” he said. “This is our calling.”