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06.08.2018 - News

Behind the scenes at Geneva airport

It is 1 o’clock in Geneva airport. At this holiday period, passengers leaving cross those just arriving, mingling with the thousands of staff working there.  Behind the scenes of this anthill, between check-in desks 49 and 50, the infirmary lies hidden. It’s here that the children are received who have been transferred to Switzerland by Terre des hommes (Tdh) for heart operations. The door opens and head nurse Alexandrine Roten welcomes us.

How does the Geneva airport infirmary work?

We are a ten-person team who take turns on duty from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. We respond to the health needs of passengers and of the 10,000 on-site staff. Several times a week we also welcome the children being transferred to Swiss hospitals by Terre des hommes to get the specialised treatment that is not available in their own countries.

How are these children received?

On the flight the children are accompanied by a volunteer from Aviation sans frontières who brings them straight to the infirmary. Once here, we do a series of checks to ascertain their general condition, their state of tiredness, and take their temperature, pulse, blood pressure and blood oxygen level. This done, the child is cared for by a member of Tdh’s staff who will stay with him/her during the first 24 hours of hospitalization in the Lake Geneva region. Where necessary, if the children are in a more serious clinical condition because they have not stood up well to the flight, we administer first aid until an ambulance arrives to take them to hospital.

Is this work different from your usual daily tasks?

 If the youngster feels alright, I try to work fast, keeping him with his companion so that he is not confronted with a new person and stressed even more. This all happens fairly quickly; and we regularly get news from the Tdh team about the children who have come through our infirmary. We hear about their state of health and the progress of their treatment. This is certainly different from our daily work, as usually, after having looked after a passenger, we know nothing further. It’s rewarding for our work.

What do you think about this project?

In Europe, and especially in Switzerland, we are not used to seeing young children who are ill, but here we are faced with a reality which is not necessarily ours, if we do not do humanitarian work. I think it is essential to provide aid beyond our borders. It is our duty not to abandon people who are in a precarious situation. This goodwill is felt at a company level (Geneva Airport) and also by the staff involved. It’s a project our nursing staff holds dear.

Is there a moment that particularly touches you?

Yes, when we see children come back a few years later to have their second or third procedure. They are lively, in good health, and that is when we realise the result of all this work.

In 2017, 240 seriously ill children were able to benefit from specialised treatment. If you would like to learn more about specialised treatment at Terre des hommes, go to

This is an extract of our Magazine Courage.