Rural Colombia gets help from above on testing

Colombian pilot Ernesto Perez, who works in financial technology, isn’t taking his private plane on a joy ride today. He’s one of about 100 aircraft owners and pilots helping to deliver COVID-19 tests to Colombia’s most remote areas, which that often lack healthcare and are home to the most vulnerable. Reuters took off with Perez on a flight from La Primavera to Cumaribo as he piloted his twin-engine plane above Colombia's wide eastern plains. He answered the call from President Ivan Duque for private pilots to help transport doctors and medical supplies to the farthest-flung areas of Colombia, where collecting samples swabbing patients is a challenge. "In these far-off and complicated areas and above all now in the rainy season when it's impossible by road - it can take 36 hours to get here - we've expanded the reach of the National Health Institute which carries the flag during this tough pandemic that we're in." While towns like La Primavera have no confirmed cases, health officials are conducting random testing to help authorities flatten the curve in a country with nearly 41,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1,300 deaths. In Cumaribo, samples from nasal swabs will be transported back to urban labs for testing. It’s a service desperately needed in his town, says Cumaribo Mayor Juan Carlos Cordero. "They're making themselves available in an area where we have many needs. There’s a lack of roads, lack of communication, lack of healthcare, lack of education... We have a need for everything that you could imagine.” The pilots have transported thousands of samples and dozens of doctors on more than 200 flights since a state of emergency in the country was declared in March. And while he does worry about getting infected, Perez says it gives him “absolute satisfaction” to help his fellow countrymen.

Video Transcript

[AIRPLANE ENGINE HUMMING]

- Colombian pilot Ernesto Perez, who works in financial technology, isn't taking his private plane on a joyride today. He's one of about 100 aircraft owners and pilots helping to deliver COVID-19 tests to Colombia's most remote areas, which often lack healthcare and are home to the most vulnerable.

Reuters took off with Perez on a flight from La Primavera to Cumaribo as he piloted his twin-engine plane above Colombia's wide eastern plains.

He answered the call from President Ivan Duque for private pilots to help transport doctors and medical supplies to the farthest-flung areas of Colombia, where swabbing patients is a challenge.

ERNESTO PEREZ: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: In these far-off and complicated areas-- and above all, now in the rainy season when it's impossible by road-- it can take 36 hours to get here. We've expanded the reach of the National Health Institute, which carries the flag during this tough pandemic that we're in.

- While towns like La Primavera have no confirmed cases, health officials are conducting random testing to help authorities flatten the curve in a country with 41,000 confirmed cases and over 1,300 deaths.

In Cumaribo, samples from nasal swabs will be transported back to urban labs for testing. It's a service desperately needed in his town, says Cumaribo Mayor Juan Carlos Cordero.

JUAN CARLOS CORDERO: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: They're making themselves available in an area where we have many needs. There's a lack of roads, lack of communication, lack of health, lack of education. We have a need for everything that you could imagine.

- The pilots have transported thousands of samples and dozens of doctors on more than 200 flights since a state of emergency in the country was declared in March. And while he does worry about getting infected, Perez says it gives him "absolute satisfaction" to help his fellow countrymen.