By Maree MacLean
A tour of duty abroad the world’s largest charity hospital ship…
A talk by Mercy Ships NZ Director, Larry Robbins, to the local chapter of U3A drew an audience of over 50 on a quiet Monday morning in Birkenhead, Auckland. Commander Robbins recounted his tours of duty in Africa and Madagascar as a ship’s officer aboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship Africa Mercy
Every year between 25-40 New Zealanders join an international crew of 400 doctors, nurses, cooks, cleaners, technical personnel and others with a 300 strong local support crew performing roles such as translators and logistical assistance to bring Mercy Ships surgical and medical services to Africa’s poorest communities.
The ‘transportable’ hospital is the perfect antidote for an Africa besieged with a lack of infrastructure; poverty, poor water and corruption that prevents hospitals on the ground from being maintained and operated efficiently.
A team of qualified medical workers carefully evaluates each and every potential candidate for medical assistance while the ship is setting up in ports across Africa. On a case-by-case basis a candidate is assessed for whether or not their particular case is treatable onboard. The evaluation team sees everyone in a queue that can number thousands of hopeful people.
Many of the patients making up the colorful queue for Mercy Ships’ medical attention have walked for many days to be evaluated. Operations extend from relatively simple surgical procedures like the removal of cataracts to restore a patient’s sight, or the correction of ruptures (fistulas) during unassisted childbirth which can lead to infertility and chronic incontinence.
Mercy Ships provides surgical and dental assistance and associated services such as rehabilitation and . The organisation often partners with sister organizations like Freedom from Fistula to continue the work after the ship leaves and Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) to get patients from remote communities.
When asked about Ebola Larry explained that the hospital ship is equipped to deal with surgical proceedings not specialist diseases such as Ebola, which require an isolation unit. “Africa Mercy was immediately re-programmed to go to Madagascar when the Ebola threat meant that it was not safe to continue the plan to go to Benin” Robbins says, highlighting the need to keep the Mercy Ship crew and her surgical facilities away from the severe epidemic.
The talk drew plenty of interest and questions.
Despite the Ebola and significant stresses paced on the crew Larry nods immediately when I enquire as to whether he’d consider doing another tour. “Oh yes, I’m definitely up for another one – hopefully next year.”
Another questioner asked how what help was required. As a charity, and to contribute to the work Mercy Ships performs in Africa, Mercy Ships New Zealand accepts donations and bequests. The contribution of time and skills as a volunteer is also extremely valuable.
If your group needs a speaker please contact the Mercy Ships NZ Office. we have speakers readily available in Auckland and in some other centres.