Delivering measles vaccines for Medair to assist in large scale measles outbreak in Aweil, South Sudan
Story by Karyn Ball. Photos by Diana Gorter and LuAnne Cadd
Pilot Chris Ball looks into the back of the MAF Cessna Caravan and sees half a dozen large coolers securely tied down by his dispatch team. “These are the biggest coolers I have ever seen,” Chris comments. The coolers, measuring 3 feet long by 2 feet high, are transporting thousands of vaccines for an emergency measles vaccination campaign run by Medair.
“MAF is helping to bring in the supplies to vaccinate somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 000 to 60 000 children,” Chris explains. “This is a pretty amazing sight.”
Medair is a Christian humanitarian organization whose mission is to relieve human suffering in some of the world’s most remote and devastated places. Medair works in many poor, isolated and war-torn communities within South Sudan, including Aweil North.
Alicia Morcombe, Medair’s health manager, explains the situation. “Medair came to Aweil North for a multi-sector assessment and it became clear very quickly that health needs were a huge priority in the county, especially problems caused by the measles outbreak. The more communities we visited, the more people told us of children dying of measles. We even heard about one community who were burying children everyday who had died from preventable diseases, including measles.”
Reports from the field indicated that already hundreds of children were suffering from measles, with thousands more at risk. Though children rarely die of measles in developed countries, conflict and an under-funded health system means that routine immunisation for young children is rare in South Sudan. Coupled with high rates of malnutrition and poor living conditions these children are even more susceptible to this highly contagious disease.
“There was no time to lose after our assessment,” Alicia recounts. “We were able to launch the measles campaign in a week.”
And this is when MAF entered the picture. Medair contacted MAF to request a flight from Juba to Aweil to deliver the vaccines as quickly as possible. It is imperative that measles vaccines keep cool. A long and bumpy trip in a vehicle on insecure roads was out of the question. The vaccines simply wouldn’t remain cold enough.
“In a measles campaign you have to keep the vaccines very, very cold,” says Alicia. “In a context like South Sudan, where it’s very hot, with limited reliable electricity supply, that can be quite difficult and it’s also difficult because the country is so huge. That’s just one of the biggest challenges.”
Just three hours later, Chris landed in Aweil and unloaded the huge coolers of vaccines. The Medair staff consisting of 43 teams and 290 local staff then travelled village to village providing measles vaccinations to thousands of children. At each vaccination site, hundreds of mothers lined up with their little ones, eager for their sons and daughters to receive the life-saving vaccines.
Twenty seven year old Mary, a mother of five, expresses her thanks. “Measles is very dangerous. I’m very happy because now my children will be free from measles. If Medair had not done the measles campaign, the outbreak would have left a trace of destruction behind and there would have been many deaths.”
By the end of their campaign, Medair’s team vaccinated an astounding 49,483 children. What seemed like an insurmountable task is now an amazing accomplishment.
Alicia and her team are proud of the work they are doing. “The vaccination campaign has been a huge challenge because Aweil North County is so big and the population is so spread out. But when you see children getting vaccinated, it’s an amazing moment. It makes all the hard work worth it to know that we can save these children from dying of measles.”
“We’re extremely grateful for MAF’s support and contribution to our life-saving measles vaccination campaign in Aweil North,” says Ruth Burns, Health Project Manager on Medair’s Emergency Response team. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
MAF South Sudan continues to serve partners such as Medair on a daily basis, providing flights just like this one, resulting in life saving work.