Child receives oral polio vaccine (credit: Eivind Lindtjorn)
When wild polio made a comeback this year after 30 years in neighbouring Malawi, the WHO, UNICEF and others joined forces in a critical campaign to vaccinate the region. In Tanzania, MAF transported health workers and the lifesaving polio vaccine in a bid to protect isolated children against this deadly disease
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is currently being rolled out across Southern Africa.
Millions of vaccine doses have already been distributed in Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi where cases of wild polio were first identified in February.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), each country will roll out four rounds of vaccinations, which will prevent circulation of the virus by the end of the year.
Although Tanzania was declared polio free in 2015, a single infection in a neighbouring country poses an enormous risk to not only every child in Tanzania, but every child around the world.
Failure to completely eradicate polio from the planet could lead to a global resurgence of the disease. Just one case of polio is considered an ‘outbreak’.
‘Until polio is eradicated everywhere, it remains a threat everywhere.’
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO
MAF helps immunise isolated children
The children of Lesirwai – a hard to reach area in north-eastern Tanzania – would struggle to get vaccinated without MAF.
Lesirwai Airstrip and the village of Lesirwai are very remote (credit: Mark & Kelly Hewes)
Aerial view of Lesirwai (credit: LuAnne Cadd)
Without MAF, health workers – armed with the lifesaving oral vaccine – would have to encounter hours of road travel and potentially impassable rivers instead of a smooth, short flight.
This immunisation round was carried out through MAF’s South Maasai mobile health clinic, which has been running for many years.
Every month, MAF flies medical personnel to various locations in South Maasai so communities can access basic healthcare. MAF has been flying to Lesirwai since 2015 and this time, it was MAF pilot Eivind Lindtjorn at the helm.
MAF pilot Eivind Lindtjorn doing his ‘dream job’ (credit: Eivind Lindtjorn)
Women and children in front of MAF plane (credit: Mark & Kelly Hewes)
Eivind took off from Same near the Kenyan border carrying boxes of the vaccine accompanied by medics from the local hospital who administered it to under-fives not immunised at all or who were only partially vaccinated. Full immunity offers the best possible protection against this devastating disease.
Women and children await their turn under a big shady tree (credit: Mark & Kelly Hewes)
A big tree offers the patients shade as they wait (credit: Mark & Kelly Hewes)
Mothers who had their children vaccinated on the first day of the clinic returned to their communities to spread the word – encouraging more people to attend with their children.
Thanks to MAF’s support, Tanzania’s Ministry of Health successfully completed its second round of polio vaccinations over several days reaching more than 12 million children in all 195 districts including those in remote areas (source: World Health Organisation).
The polio vaccine is administered orally (credit: Mark & Kelly Hewes)
Another baby receives the vaccine (credit: Jean Bizimana)
Historic disease makes a comeback
According to the WHO, polio is a highly infectious, incurable yet preventable disease, which mainly affects children under five years of age.
One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5–10% die when their breathing muscles shut down.
Polio is already endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan but this year, new cases of the virus have been identified in Malawi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Yemen, Tajikistan, Jerusalem, London and New York.
Every child needs vaccinating against polio (credit: Mark & Kelly Hewes)
This year, over 250 children across Africa have been paralysed by the disease. The continent had only been declared free from wild polio in 2020. Only full vaccination can prevent paralysis (source: WHO).
Once again, the race is on to completely eradicate polio from the face of the earth. Together we can help stop preventable deaths and the unnecessary paralysis of polio, which Jackson Mataya lives with every day.
The medical team leave Lesirwai after a long day (credit: LuAnne Cadd)