A Reflection of 2020 – MAF Kenya

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt across almost all of our programs. It has affected our staff, our ability to fly, and the people we have been able to reach. Below is a summary of how this impact has been felt in Kenya.

As the world was shutting down, Kenya was no different, and in April our passenger flights ground to a halt. Our team working at the office and hangar was reduced, with home working in place to ensure social distancing measures could be adhered to. The government introduced strict measures preventing people travelling out of Nairobi and three other counties where infection rates were higher. This meant that it was safer for all our staff to remain in Nairobi close to healthcare options rather than be based in Marsabit at this time. Cargo, humanitarian and medical emergency flights were permitted, so whilst there was potential for some flights to happen, our partners were not traveling much so our flight hours remained low. By the end of April, MAF Kenya was given a three-month clearance to perform non-COVID-19 medevacs, meaning approval was not required for each flight.

With daily infection rates increasing into May, we obtained a six-month approval to carry COVID-19 samples in South Sudan for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the South Sudan Ministry of Health (MOH). We were also able to gain approvals and carry out the aircraft swap of 5Y-BRE and 5Y-ESU in Juba on 6th May. On 11th May we did a medevac for one of our partners working in Mfangano Island, bringing the patient to Nairobi for treatment. Cases continued to rise and government restrictions were extended into June. Our work at this time included another aircraft swap and some more medevacs.

By June 1st, the total number of cases in Kenya was 2,021 with 69 deaths. On the 8th June these figures had risen to 2,862 with 85 deaths. The government extended most restrictions again, and international travel restrictions were also extended. We were, however, able to perform a flight originating in Nairobi to transport a body from Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) to Kajo Keji (South Sudan) and back to Nairobi via Lokichoggio over two days.

The situation continued in this vein into July. We carried out aircraft maintenance swaps and a limited number of charter flights during this time. On 6th July the local travel restrictions were lifted within Kenya and domestic air travel for approved operators resumed on 15th July. This was reviewed at the end of the month and despite rising cases, these measures continued into August. International borders also opened – allowing passenger flights from some countries (including the UK, Switzerland and Netherlands) to enter without quarantine, providing some conditions were met.

In August we were able to carry out our Marsabit shuttles and some charters, however demand for flights remained low.

By the beginning of September, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases each day in Kenya began to decrease. The borders remained open and we were able to welcome a new engineering family to our staff, as well as accommodating several pilots from MAF South Sudan who were in Kenya to renew pilot licenses and do proficiency checks. We also sent two engineers to Bangladesh to assist with maintenance on the aircraft there. As for our flights, we performed the occasional shuttle flight when there was demand. At the end of September, the curve had finally flattened. September also brought the consultation period of our programme review.

Flight requests in October remained low but aircraft maintenance swaps continued with South Sudan and the programme review process continued.

Unfortunately, by the time the end of October had arrived, daily confirmed cases had begun to rise again along with talk of restrictions being reintroduced. At the beginning of November cases rose sharply, however our shuttles began to see better occupancy levels and we carried out a CURE medical safari in partnership with Missions of Hope International.

At the end of November, as our program review came to completion, we sadly said goodbye to 14 members of our team – including but not limited to engineers, finance and IT officers, housekeepers and logistics officers. Together they had given 253 years of service to MAF, the longest serving member having worked with us for 37 years.

In December, the infection rate continued to increase with the cumulative number of cases sitting at 18,618 with 1,469 deaths. Demand for flights is still up and down, we pray that this will stabilise soon.

2020 has brought with it many challenges with COVID-19, but also with the programme restructure and the sometimes painful changes that have come with that. We are grateful for the work of all of our staff and for the flights we have been able to carry out and the impact these flights have had. We pray for COVID-19 to be brought under control in the nation and for our programme to thrive in 2021.

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