Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) is airlifting emergency immunizations and humanitarian health workers into remote areas of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to fight a measles epidemic sweeping this embattled African nation.
With logistical support of MAF, a faith-based, nonprofit ministry that brings aid and assistance to needy people in remote places around the world, the international nonprofit Doctors Without Borders is at the forefront of combating this highly contagious disease.
“Even the few existing roads in DRC are in poor condition from lack of maintenance, and in the rainy season they’re totally impassible, hence air travel is the sole means of transport to most of the country,” said John Boyd, MAF president and CEO. “MAF is honored to assist by flying immunizations and key Doctors Without Borders personnel in this lifesaving vaccination campaign against this killer disease.”
Health and humanitarian workers report that the measles virus has spread beyond a few rural areas to cities and is poised to move beyond five provinces to the rest of the country. The highly contagious disease can lead to pneumonia, severe dehydration, blindness and death, especially among children. According to Doctors Without Borders, measles can kill as many as 15% of the children it infects. That number rises to 25% among those with impaired access to healthcare.
Garth Pederson, a Kinshasa-based MAF pilot, says MAF has flown 12 charter flights since January, including four within the last 10 days that transported 35 Congolese and European humanitarian health workers to Tshikapa in Kasai province, 350 miles east of Kinshasa. From there, workers travel by vehicle or motorcycle to outlying communities, Pederson said.
While MAF often helps humanitarian groups in vaccination, healthcare and other campaigns, half its west DRC fleet of six aircraft is fueled by aviation gasoline, or “avgas.” Avgas shortages could force MAF to park three of its west DRC airplanes, unless a shipment is received within the next month. The remaining three MAF planes run on more readily available jet fuel, Pederson said, and will be able to keep flying.
More than a decade ago MAF launched a multi-year initiative to replace many of its Cessna 206s, which run on avgas, with new planes that run on jet fuel. Six new KODIAK aircraft have been added to the fleet in the past two years.
In western DRC where MAF has ministered for 50 years, nine MAF missionary families and 31 Congolese staff members operate six aircraft from bases in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa. MAF sustains and multiplies the ministry efforts of missionaries, relief workers, social workers and a 350-bed hospital in Vanga. MAF pilots and planes conduct emergency medical evacuations, transport medicines from the hospital to outlying areas, and deliver evangelistic materials, as well as enable training events, learning institutions, social action projects and crisis relief.
Founded in 1945, MAF is a Christian ministry organization, which transports missionaries, medical personnel and supplies, performs disaster relief work, and conducts emergency medical evacuations in remote areas. In 2010, MAF flew 94,961 passengers and 9.2 million pounds of cargo on 33,365 flights, enabling the work of hundreds of mission and relief organizations. MAF also provides distance learning services, as well as telecommunication services such as satellite Internet access, high-frequency radios, electronic mail and other wireless systems.