PILOTS from the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) have delivered supplies of coronavirus vaccine to a remote mountain-top community in Lesotho.
The first plane touched down last month on a grass airstrip in Kuebunyane, an area that comprises several remote villages, with vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which have now been given to about 60 health workers.
The villages are home to 62,000 people, but are so far from the nearest hospital that travel for the vaccine was impossible. Kuebunyane is 2293 metres above sea level. To reach it from the closest clinic, in Qacha’s Nek, nurses would have to drive for four hours before undertaking a four-hour trek across a deep valley. In the time that this would take, the vaccines — which must be kept cold in a fridge — would have spoiled and be useless.
MAF fitted out their Cessna light aircraft with fridges, so that nurses from the Lesotho Flying Doctor Service could fly into remote regions, such as Kuebunyane, in just 30 minutes, from the capital, Maseru, to deliver the vaccine.
The pilot of the first flight, Grant Strugnell, said: “I’m pleased that MAF aircraft are so well suited to this critical last mile of vaccine transport. By offering a journey of half an hour, rather than eight, these vaccines can arrive at the required temperature.”
Lesotho, a small mountainous nation landlocked by South Africa, has a population of two million. There have been 315 deaths and 10,686 confirmed Covid-19 infections in the country. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines delivered by MAF were part of a shipment of 36,000 which the nation received last month from the COVAX programme: a World Health Organization scheme to send free vaccines to developing nations (News, 26 March).
The UK is one of the largest donors to COVAX: it has given £540 million so far.
MAF has already flown further flights to other hard-to-access regions in Lesotho, delivering vaccines, and said that it was well placed to play a critical part in distributing the vaccine across the developing world.
“As an aerologistical specialist, MAF can overcome a variety of logistical challenges, including secure transport of needles, syringes, and safe passage for medical staff to accompany vaccines and carry out remote area vaccination programmes in inaccessible or dangerous locations,” the charity’s international-development manager, Vaughan Woodward, said.