World Immunisation Week

World Immunisation Week

To mark World Immunisation Week, we’re highlighting some of the ways MAF is combatting deadly diseases and delivering life-saving vaccines for measles, tetanus, polio and Ebola by plane.

Vaccinations against the most common childhood diseases save millions of lives each year. They are some of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Yet, according to the World Health organisation (WHO), there are still nearly 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children in the world today.

Many of these people live in remote areas where there is poor access to health services. MAF can make a real difference in these communities by flying in teams and supplies to carry out vaccinations. Such a simple preventative measure can ensure children have a future.

Flights to end measles misery in Madagascar

If you’ve been following the news in Madagascar, you’ll be aware of the terrible measles outbreak that has claimed hundreds of lives since September 2018.

Fears that the highly contagious disease could spread beyond Antananarivo, where it began, to the remote towns and villages that MAF serves, led several health NGOs and the government to organise a country-wide vaccination campaign to reach 7 million children. Every child between the ages of 9 months and 9 years was offered the vaccine. 

A week of lifesaving measles flights 

For MAF, this meant a busy week of flying at the beginning of April. In just one week, the team pulled together to fly more than 8,000 kgs of medical cargo including vaccines, syringes, cotton wool and other supplies. It is estimated that around 50,000 children will benefit from these vaccinations.

One flight to Morafenobe, saved 2-3 days on muddy roads. The impact was summed up by MAF’s Charlotte Pedersen who said, ‘There will be a lot of screaming going on in the isolated villages of Madagascar next week. But let’s rather have the children screaming for a few minutes than the mothers crying for the rest of their life grieving for the loss of their beloved child.'

'MAF flew 8,000 kgs of medical cargo including vaccines, syringes and cotton wool. 
50,000 children will benefit from these vaccinations.'

Protecting children against common childhood diseases in Tanzania

Small teams of nurses from Haydom Lutheran Hospital, Kilimatinde Hospital and the government clinic in Hedaru carried out 18,370 vaccinations in 2018. Thanks to the monthly safari flights children were protected against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella, tetanus and polio. A further 4,663 vaccinations were carried out between January and March this year.

A busy day vaccinating children

Tanzania has made great strides in recent years in ensuring children are vaccinated against the most common childhood diseases. The country has a coverage rate of around 79% which is good, but still below the threshold of 95% needed to prevent an outbreak of infectious disease.

'In 2018 MAF flights facilitated 18,370 vaccinations against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella, tetanus and polio'

Stopping polio in its tracks in Papua New Guinea

Last year we shared the worrying news of an outbreak of polio in PNG, a country that had previously been polio-free since 1996.  Evidence of the return of the disease was first spotted in remote communities, where immunisation rates had dropped very low.  The disease, which often affects children, can be relatively mild. Severe cases attack the central nervous system, leading to long-term paralysis and possible death.   

At the beginning of the outbreak, MAF assisted health workers to reach remote villages to prevent the outbreak from spreading to neighbouring areas. The MAF team even took steps to make the polio vaccine available to staff and their families in our Mount Hagen headquarters. 

In August 2018, a team was flown to Jiwaka to repair a solar fridge, raise awareness of polio amongst the community, and begin a vaccination campaign which was continued by local health post staff.

Opening an airstrip in time to prevent a measles outbreak

In September 2018 MAF Papua New Guinea shared the successful outcome of an intervention in Enga Province. Ann Hallett, Director of Nursing & Midwifery Services said, 'Enga Baptist Health Services teams partnering with the PHA government teams have in the past ten days vaccinated 5500 children under five. This is for the STOP POLIO IN PNG campaign. Approximately 30 staff climbed over 100 mountains found 70 villages, flew in MAF planes, rode in dingys and drove some precarious roads. They have vaccinated 86% of the population under five.'

In March 2019, UNICEF provided funding to install solar fridges in all of Sandaun Province's local government centres. MAF flew in the fridges and teams to install them, so vaccines can now be stored locally rather than being flown in from larger towns.

At the end of March, our Twin Otter aircraft flew to a number of remote airstrips in the border area of Sandaun Province to collect nurses again after the successful completion of polio vaccination clinics. MAF had previously flown the teams of 2-3 nurses to carry out the third phase of the vaccination programme, targeting children under the age of 15.  ‘It was exciting to talk to them as we picked them up and find that they had had great success, vaccinating many children,’ reported Twin Otter Captain Richie Axon.

'MAF flew in fridges and teams to install them, meaning vaccines can now be stored locally.
MAF also flew nurses to a number of remote airstrips to carry out vaccinations'

Deadly Ebola continues to spread in the DRC

The current Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to worsen. There have been 1,367 cases of Ebola reported since the epidemic began last August, according to the WHO with 885 deaths so far. 250 new cases have been confirmed since the beginning of April alone.

Violent attacks on treatment centres have deterred people from seeking treatment and the number of cases has escalated at an alarming rate within the last month. MAF is keep a close eye on the spread of the deadly disease which has a mortality rate of 50%. ‘Today and yesterday were the worst days yet for numbers of new cases—18 today,’ said Jon Cadd, Programme Manager for MAF’s programme in the Eastern DRC (EDRC) on 11 April.

According to Dave Petersen, MAF EDRC director of operations, ‘It is now spreading north towards us. Even the guy that does my flight plans in Butembo where I delivered the supplies was gone and it turns out he has Ebola. Please be in prayer for it to get under control. We really don’t want to have to evacuate.’

MAF evacuated staff families from Nyankunde in December when a suspected case was confirmed in the town’s hospital. Staff families returned in January after it was confirmed that the Ebola patient was an isolated case. Front-line workers in Nyankunde were offered the Ebola vaccine and some of MAF’s national staff chose to get vaccinated. The experimental vaccine has proved to be highly effective at protecting against the deadly disease.

Story: Ebola spreads in DRC

Since the outbreak began in August 2018, MAF has been offering logistics support and flight operations from our Nyankunde and Bunia base as well as from our base in the capital Kinshasa.  MAF has been working with World Food Program Logistics Cluster, DRC Ministry of Health, World Health Organization, the UN and other humanitarian agencies in coordinated efforts to contain the disease.

Story: The beginning of Ebola in DRC 

On 2 April Nick Frey, pilot and programme manager for MAF’s West DRC programme flew 270kgs of medical supplies to Beni and transported blood samples back to the capital, Kinshasa. ‘Beni is the epicentre for Ebola these days,’ Nick said. ‘Just this morning I saw a report that there were over 1,000 cases and over 600 deaths. MAF is doing our part. We’re here not only spreading God’s love and help and hope but trying to bring an end to Ebola here in Congo.’

On 12 April MAF transported 200 kg of medication (six boxes) and other supplies (nine boxes) from Bunia to Butembo on behalf of the WHO and another medical NGO. Since the outbreak began, MAF has conducted 53 Ebola-related flights.

Please pray:

  • For the people of Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania.
  • For an end to the spread of Ebola, polio, measles and other childhood diseases. 
  • For continued commitment by governments to maintain high levels of vaccination in the population.  
  • For MAF's medical partners, going the extra mile to reach remote communities with vaccination campaigns.   

‘Thank you for your prayers, thank you for your support please continue to help make these flights happen, it’s making a difference!’ Nick Frey