Measles strikes, children die in Democratic Republic of Congo

By April 6, 2011

D. R. Congo (MNN) — More than 100 children are dead as health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo scramble to address an outbreak of measles. Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) reports there have been 21,000 cases in five provinces in the giant Central African nation.

Mission Aviation Fellowship has been helping with the medical needs, says MAF's West Congo Program Manager Garth Pederson. "We're flying in personnel–the people who will be giving the vaccinations–as well as the vaccines themselves."

Without MAF, getting to the infected areas would be impossible. "This area is about 350 miles east of Kinshasa, the capital city. And so, there are really no other options for them, travel wise. There are no roads that go into those areas, so the airplane is the only way for them to get in there quickly and effectively," Pederson says.

The area affected is larger than the state of Texas. Pederson says the task is huge. "They're looking to give around 600,000 vaccinations. The people are a bit dispersed. So they're going to use motorcycles to go into the really remote areas."

The measles outbreak was identified in December, so medical personnel have been on the scene since January.

Pederson says MAF is facing a huge challenge, which could affect their work in the region. "We're a bit short-staffed at this moment. Our pilots are a bit extended. So, we continue to pray for more staff. We're also looking at an avgas shortage, which is the fuel we use for our smaller airplanes. We're probably going to run out of avgas by mid-May unless we find another source."

However, MAF does have two planes that run on easy-to-obtain jet fuel, so that program won't be totally grounded.

In terms of health issues, missionaries are safe because all of their personnel have been vaccinated for measles.

The people of the DRC have been through civil war, political unrest, and now a health emergency. Despite that, Pederson says, they have hope. And they're finding that hope in Christ, thanks to the local church. "A lot of the protestant pastors and churches that we work with are some of the only agencies or workers who are doing this health work in the interior. So, the body of Christ [which is] spread out into the interior of Congo is really making a difference in the lives of ordinary Congolese."

Serving as an arm of the worldwide body of Christ is the main thrust of MAF's work. Pederson says they're sharing their faith at every turn. "We do pray before each flight. That serves not only to ready our hearts, but it also serves as a witness to some of the health workers that we're transporting. Not all of them are Christians."

Pederson says they also host "JESUS" Film showings, and they also reach out to the military camps around Kinshasa.

If you'd like to adopt an MAF airplane, which will help support their work, click here.

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