Safer Surgery by 2030

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: African Leaders and Mercy Ships gather for a historic symposium

An estimated 93% of the people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to safe surgery.

Each of those people has a name, a face, and a story. Like Marie Madeleine, a teenager in Senegal who struggled to get to school before she received surgery to straighten her legs. Or Baba, a peanut farmer who thought he’d never again be able to help his family after a severe burn took the use of his arm.

Since 1990, when the Anastasis first docked in Lomé, Togo, Mercy Ships has worked side by side with the African people to provide safe surgery to those who need it.

And after three decades of fruitful partnership, it’s time to take this work to the next level.

“We need now to support Africa to design a health system, and strengthen the system,” said Mercy Ships Africa Bureau Director Dr. Pierre M’Pelé.

Mercy Ships is uniting with the political and scientific leaders of Africa on a plan to strengthen their surgical systems from within over the next 10 years. In May, these efforts will converge at a historic event: The International Symposium on Strengthening Surgical, Obstetric, and Anesthetic Care Systems in Africa by 2030.

This event is part of an overarching Mercy Ships Africa Celebration, marking not only a step forward for the surgical systems across the continent but is a celebration of the 30-year partnership between Mercy Ships and the nations of Africa. None of this would have been possible without our supporters all over the world. And you’re invited to be a part of it all.

The Importance of Evidence

Still, little is known about the specific barriers to surgery in each African country. That’s why Mercy Ships has worked with partners to launch a groundbreaking baseline assessment. The study will investigate the surgical, obstetric, and anesthesia systems in 47 African nations and identify any gaps. Currently, only seven of those countries have a surgical plan – but that will soon change.

The baseline assessment includes data from more than 850 district hospitals. A study of this scope has never been attempted – and Dr. M’Pelé believes it is vital to moving forward.

“If you don’t have an assessment, you cannot have a plan,” Dr. M’Pelé said. “It’s about research. Research to support actions. Based on that assessment we can now help them to think about, what are the priorities? What are the best strategies for Africa to invest, and then to upgrade the system for the next 10 years?”

Key Events

The Mercy Ships Africa Celebration is a time to celebrate and reflect on the progress of the past 30 years, and to set our hearts toward what’s next. You are invited to join each special event virtually, from wherever you are in the world.

From May 4-5, medical experts from around the continent will gather at the symposium to discuss the baseline assessment’s findings. Then on May 6, a group of African Ministers will go over their report, taking another step to turn research into action.

On May 28, the newest and largest hospital ship in the fleet, the Global MercyⓇ, will make its maiden voyage to Africa. After years of planning, dreaming, and building, this ship is finally ready to join the Africa MercyⓇ in Senegal, beginning her life of service.

African Heads of State will gather to sign the Dakar Declaration on June 2, a strategic roadmap based on the results of the assessment. This groundbreaking document will help guide them through the process of making lasting improvements to Africa’s surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic systems by 2030.

Later on June 2 as the Global Mercy is commissioned, we mark the beginning of a new era, with a doubled fleet capable of double the hope and healing. It’s a moment that wouldn’t be possible without supporters like you. And it’s a moment we don’t want you to miss.

“We have a shared vision of working together in strengthening surgical, obstetric, and anesthetic care systems in Africa, and we are looking toward the future together,” said Gert van de Weerdhorf, Mercy Ships Chief Executive Officer. “This is a momentous occasion in Africa, and we are so grateful to be a part of it.”

Building from a Strong Foundation

Mercy Ships has partnered with Africa on health system strengthening for years, through its Medical Capacity Building program.

“Good health is a sign of a strong, solid country,” said Dr. Miriam John, Mercy Ships Interim International Chief Medical Officer. “It allows you to progress with your education, allows you to progress with your economy.”

In Guinea, Mercy Ships partner Professor Raphiou Diallo trains the next generation of dentists and oral surgeons. In Cameroon, Dr. Serge Ngouatna teaches primary trauma care to doctors in rural areas. In Senegal, the Food for Life program empowers local food producers like Birima, who then teach their communities about nutritional agriculture to help raise healthy children.

“When the ship comes in, we do amazing work, but we can’t stay there all the time,” said Dr. John. “And it’s important that we help to strengthen healthcare systems as part of what we do.”

Supporting, not Leading

In this new season, Mercy Ships will seek to fill the role of supporter, adviser, and partner. But the ability to change the landscape of surgical care in Africa lies with the African people.

“We have influence, but it isn’t our responsibility to fix that system,” said Dr. John. “We do have an amazing opportunity to influence, empowering others to be able to change their system from the inside.”

Dr. M’Pelé believes the work of Mercy Ships is more important than ever.

“What a beautiful role we have,” he said.

He sees Mercy Ships as an agent of unity, bringing together leaders in government, medicine, nonprofits, academia, and business, to help ensure that this mission is a success.

“This is something we will decide together,” he said. “We are going to make bold decisions for our future. And we don’t have the right to fail. We have to succeed.”

The Mercy Ships Africa Celebration is a chance to celebrate a three-decade legacy of hope and healing, and to look ahead to the future. Follow updates from Mercy Ships to learn how to get involved, participate in each exciting moment virtually, and follow the progress that will grow from this historic moment.