As part of the COVAX campaign, MAF flew around 2,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine from Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, to Oecusse, an area which is surrounded by West Timor (Indonesia). Without MAF, accessing this region from Dili via ferry or road can take many hours.

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Ping Domtta is a relief pilot, and acting Operations Manager, serving with MAF in Dili, Timor Leste.

This summer, Ping arrived at the airport in Dili to get the aircraft ready for his scheduled flight. He checked the tires and lights, and made sure there was enough fuel. As most flights in Timor Leste are medical evacuations, a scheduled flight was out of the ordinary.

Around 8 am, a team from Servico Autonomo de Medicamentos e Equipapmentos de Saude (SAMES), the National Medical Stores of Timor Leste under the Ministry of Health, arrived. They were on their way to Oecusse, an isolated region of Timor Leste, to deliver COVID vaccines. As the three passengers completed their pre-flight paperwork, vaccines were loaded onto the MAF aircraft. Each box was weighed individually and placed strategically to ensure the centre of gravity of the aircraft was maintained. Soon, Ping and the team from SAMES were off, carrying with them the precious cargo of vaccines.

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Oecusse, also known as Oecusse Ambeno, is a coastal municipality and a Special Administrative Region that is cut off from the rest of Timor Leste. Surrounded by Indonesia (where international travel restrictions are in place due to COVID), access to Oecusse is limited to a 15-hour ferry from Dili or a 50-minute flight. The problem of transporting vaccines by boat is that the vaccines need to be stored at specific temperatures, and this would not have been possible on the ferry. On the MAF flight, the vaccines reached their destination in under an hour.

On landing in Oecusse, a team from the local hospital was waiting for the vaccines and a handing over ceremony had been organized. After attending, Ping and the three team members from SAMES boarded the aircraft again for the flight home.

“I was very happy to be a part of this flight. To play a role in bringing hope and healing to people in isolated communities is such a blessing! I know the vaccines will help protect the communities living in Oecusse,” says Ping.

STORY by Lungpinglak Domtta and Neetha David with PHOTOS by Ping Domtta