Madagascar - Transporting essential child vaccines during a pandemic

Published: 13 May 2020

Big box of syringes to faciliate child vaccinations

Every year, thousands of newborns in Madagascar need vital vaccines to survive childhood. Despite coronavirus, on the 13th and 14th May, MAF was permitted to transport these vaccines in partnership with UNICEF. MAF Comms Officer, Charlotte Pedersen, explains the challenges involved

‘During the pandemic, MAF is doing whatever it can to help save lives. We’re playing our part - flying vaccines to isolated communities and keeping them at the right temperature so that they remain effective.  

868kg of various vaccines and syringes are loaded onto MAF aircraft. We land in the middle of nowhere - a beautiful and peaceful place called Ambatomainty. It’s in the Melaky Region in north west Madagascar. The cargo - which will provide life-saving immunity to babies - is offloaded onto a waiting ox cart.

Local people in remote Ambatomainty pick up vaccines and syringes via an ox cart

‘Domestic flights have been severely restricted’

In Ambatomainty, the contrast in the way of life is clear. Peaceful surroundings mean that isolation is a reality for many people in Madagascar.  

Villagers are very thankful to receive the vaccines - one less thing to worry about when you’re cut off from the rest of the world!

MAF’s work in Madagascar is not without its challenges. During this pandemic, domestic flights have been severely restricted and MAF Madagascar has had to work very hard to plan flights and get the permission to fly. 

At the time of writing, only medevacs and cargo flights are permitted – that is, only after applying for permission for each and every flight. Getting permission for 868kg of vaccines took longer than expected. 

'During the pandemic, MAF is doing whatever it can to help save lives'
(Charlotte Pedersen, MAF Comms Officer)

‘MAF is the only way in and out of this village’

Next stop, Marolambo – a village in eastern Madagascar. 439kg of vaccines and 45 minutes of flying. Marolambo is impossible to reach by truck and takes four days on a motorbike from the capital, Antananarivo.  

MAF is the only way in and out of this village, but although Marolambo’s airstrip is nicely paved, it isn ́t the easiest to land on.

The following day, the MAF 5R-MKD is loaded once again with 868kg of vaccines. Our hardworking ground staff weigh the cargo, load it and balance the weight perfectly!

Ground staff load up boxes of vaccines and syringes onto MAF's 5R-MKD aircraft

‘Flying is a team effort’

Our pilots take off in a packed aircraft. Getting the aircraft in the air is clearly a team effort according to MAF Pilot and new recruit, Ian Purdey: 

“The ground crew here are champions as always, weighing, loading and reloading, etc. A trip like this makes it really obvious that flying is a team effort, all the way from the initial booking through to dispatch, flight completion, putting the plane to bed and doing the paperwork.”

More than ever in the current climate, these vaccine flights are crucial for the health of these isolated Malagasy children.’

View of isolated village from cockpit

All photo credits: Ian Purdey / MAF