Drums beating, children laughing, and people of all ages dressed in vibrant fabrics shuffling and dancing to the African beat. The wards on board the Mercy Ship in West Africa look and sound like no other surgical hospital we know.
Mercy Ships delivers free, world-class healthcare for those with little other access, with a strong emphasis on paediatric services. Capacity building and sustainable development in the developing world is a dual focus.
The Africa Mercy is about the size of an interisland ferry, with five operating theatres, five wards and all the axillary services required for the ship to provide a complete surgical journey including rehabilitation services, for people living in poverty in developing nations. The crew of 450 volunteers at a time from New Zealand and across the globe live on board in Africa, while donating their time in medical, maritime and operational positions to make the whole system function smoothly and professionally.
Anna recently volunteered for seven weeks as an operating theatre nurse onbaord the hospital ship in Senegal – her first tour-of-duty with Mercy Ships. During Anna’s service the cases performed were orthopaedic, maxillofacial and general surgeries.
“My first experience of doing paediatric surgery was onboard. I did a range of surgeries across the general, max fax and orthopaedic specialties. I looked after their health and safety whilst in theatre, helped them get safely from the ward, and out to PACU after surgery was performed.
Our patients were impacted by extreme poverty. People expected to lose family members, and there is a lower life expectancy. Some suffered from malnutrition throughout their childhood that lead to severe physical deformities.”
One of the patients Anna helped was a six-year-old girl who had severely bent legs. ‘Our theatre team of eight consisted of one anaesthetist, one anaesthetic technician, two surgeons and three nurses (a scrub and two circulating nurses) and a Senegalese translator used speak with the patient. After the little girl awoke from her two-hour life-transforming surgery, Anna was very moved that her first (translated) words were ‘thank you for all caring for me’. ‘It bought tears to my eyes,’ she shared.
‘There is a lot of hardship and need in Africa,’ reflects Anna. ‘It was rewarding to do what I could. If it wasn’t for the Mercy Ship, our patients would not be able to receive healthcare, so it is truly life-changing for them.’
Essential surgery is virtually inaccessible to the majority of people in the countries Mercy Ships visits. The barriers include proximity to services, extreme poverty and the low number of trained professionals practicing in developing nations.
The Mercy Ship to spend 10 months at a stretch in an African country, delivering surgical specialties alongside healthcare capacity building and mentoring, for people who would have no other access to the surgery they need.
We are grateful that during the Africa Mercy’s 8-month stay in the port of Dakar, Republic of Senegal, Mercy Ships provided over 1,400 life-changing surgeries onboard. Volunteer medical professionals treated over 5,500 dental patients at a land-based dental clinic as well as provided healthcare training to 1,270 local medical professionals through mentoring and courses in partnership with 17 hospitals throughout Senegal.