When less is more

What went wrong – or did it go right? Of the 6,000 people who lined up to be accessed for surgery during screening event in Guinea, West Africa last year, only six children presented with cleft lips or palates! Normally, we would expect to see hundreds of little ones suffering from this birth defect.

It was far from a disappointing result. This significantly reduced number is due in part to medical capacity building and surgical mentoring that has taken in Guinea in recent years. Dr  Diallo participates in a mentorship with Mercy Ships and has helped facilitate the work of local surgeons performing 323 lip and palate surgeries in the capital city over the past two years.

‘We have put ourselves out of a job (in one of the 56 countries in Africa), which is what we have been trying to do,’ explains Dr Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer onboard the Africa Mercy.

‘Depending on what statistics you look at, every three to ten minutes a child [somewhere in the world] is born with a cleft lip or palate. It’s a major public health issue,’ Dr Parker explains.

‘I first mentored Dr Raphiou Diallo in 1998,’ reflects Dr Parker. ‘He had already left his education at this point, and his dream was to build a team of people who could help this region of West Africa. Because of his formal training and his ‘heart’, he is the one who can move things forward.’

Since then, Dr Diallo has taken further surgical exams in France. With these qualifications, he could easily move himself and his family to Europe, where the standard of living is higher. But he doesn’t. His commitment is to West Africa — to his home.

‘It says a lot about his position and his commitment to building his continent up,’ Dr Parker comments. ‘When you find someone passionate about helping those in their own country and who wants to teach, you can go so far.’

Praised for his ability to do great work with limited resources, Dr Diallo has also enabled those mentoring on the ship to see that medical training means very little if participants can’t apply what they’ve learned in the field.

‘Dr Diallo can do so much more with a lot less compared to high-income surgeons. He is teaching me how to make things go further. As the world goes forward we need to learn how to be more economical,’ Dr Parker said. ‘I have learned a lot over the years from this man, and he has shaped how I teach. We continue to grow together.’

As one of the greatest influencer in West Africa, Dr Diallo’s impact is far bigger than we can measure and makes a lasting difference in thousands of lives.

‘For lasting impact, you need people who are determined, and a place they can do it,’ Dr Parker said. ‘Diallo needs support and infrastructure — that’s where Mercy Ships comes in. But before this, you need someone with the heart to do something about the need — that’s who he is.’