In the News

Kea Kids TV hears from Mia, Campbell, Oliver and Lucas about moving from the green grass of the Waikato, to living on a ship heading for Africa. This is a refreshing look at their mercy mission on the water, from the children’s perspective.

Jeremy Pollard is the new principal for the Mercy Ships school for crew children onboard. He and Ruth tell the Waikato Times what inspired them to sign their family up for two years on board a hospital ship.

In the News

Sinclair Carter, Second Engineer on the 16,000 tonne Africa Mercy, says his days were busy and never boring. They wouldn’t be. After a career at sea, Carter has recently returned from volunteering his maritime skills with Mercy Ships, the hospital ship charity dedicated to providing desperately needed surgical services and medical capacity building to the under-served in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sinclair and Kathy Carter from Whangamata arrived onboard the Africa Mercy in Senegal, West Africa just before COVID-19 made a global impact

Published by Professional Skipper Magazine (Jan/Feb 2021 edition) 

‘The scale of the ship’s operations is massive,’ explains Carter. ‘The Africa Mercy is self-sufficient, with its own generators, firefighting, fuel and oil systems, sewage treatment plants and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems – all of which must function to support a crew of over 400. The ship also needs to power hospital facilities such as X-ray machines, CT scanners, and for the five operating theatres, five wards and axillary hospital services onboard. The free operations provided onboard for the poor include burns reconstructive surgery, cleft lip and palate reconstruction, benign tumour removal, paediatric orthopaedic corrections, womens’ health and cataract surgeries.
The technical crew makes up roughly 30 % of the volunteer crew onboard the Africa Mercy, which includes a large contingent of medics as well as operational crew. The engineering team plays a vital part in maintaining the operating platform so that surgical treatment can be carried out for people in the region without access to essential surgery.

‘It’s the best environment I’ve ever worked in,’ says engineer Carter, after a career at sea

‘With four main B & W engines along with the 4 MAN 21/31 generators, each of 3120kW, the engineering team maintains the constant power supply necessary to supply the operating theatres, air conditioning units are needed to keep the ambient temperature and electrical systems have to be maintained to all other areas of the Mercy Ship. There is an interdependency within the Africa Mercy, and the engineering team ensures the power to run the medical and other facilities onboard is always available.

‘As an engineer used to working in a commercial environment, one of the big differences on the Africa Mercy was the higher number of passengers – which includes medical and operational crew, and the 25 families of long term crew members who live onboard. This necessitates additional resources to manage the electrical, HVACR and sewage requirements. This means the engineering team includes electricians, plumbers and HVACR technicians. The hospital ship has its own medical waste incinerator and medical waste convertor which also require regular maintenance.’

Acquired by Mercy Ships in 1999, the Africa Mercy is almost 40 years old. The vessel was retrofitted from a Danish inter-island rail ferry to hospital ships. As a result, there are a few idiosyncrasies to contend with. Now carrying up to 400 passengers who live onboard, the need for air conditioning, sewage and water increased exponentially. Additional air conditioning units were placed throughout the ship which makes the maintenance of these units challenging due to their decentralised location.

‘Because a rail ferry doesn’t have large fuel requirements, when the ship was refitted, ballast tanks and dry tanks were used to hold the additional fuel required to operate a hospital ship. As fuel in Africa is not always readily available, the Africa Mercy tends to carry more fuel in the event of needing to sail urgently, explains Carter. ‘Using ballast and dry tanks, there would be a higher risk of contaminants and water ingress from wear and tear of pipes so extra maintenance was necessary to keep everything in good working order.

‘Direct access to the engine room was cut off when the operating theatres and hospital wards were built the same level as the rail ferry entrance and exits, creating a challenge to move materials and goods in and out of the engine room, now needing to be moved through the hospital area.’

Typically, Carter checked in with his team first thing in the morning and allocated work accordingly, knowing that generally within the first hour all planning would go out the window as more urgent work was needed first.

Training and mentoring is a primary goal for Mercy Ships in each host nation to help increase professional capacity in West Africa

One aspect of the role he says loved most was training the team and watching them learn. For many of the African volunteers this was the first opportunity to gain their certificates and to progress up through the ranks to the next stage of their career. Carter would often run evening training sessions for his ‘guys’ and there was always a roomful of attendees.

When doing his last round in the evening, he would often find one of the team studying, sometimes with one of their team mates who wasn’t even on duty. ‘Togetherness reigns; if one succeeds, they all succeed! No tall poppy syndrome there!’ he affirms.

Carter’s wife Kathy also volunteered onboard; as Deck and Engineering administrator. Originally their service was to be for three months, but they extended it – twice. Her role was to keep both technical teams running smoothly. She found it interesting and varied.

‘There were monthly rosters and changes to rosters as crews changed, and engineering reports which had to be provided on a weekly and monthly basis,’ Kathy explains. ‘Mercy Ships is registered under the Malta flag so any officer that starts has to have their credentials submitted to Malta for approval. It is also important that any information relayed at the meetings was passed on to the teams so I would attend the morning catch-ups with each team and pass on any information deemed necessary.’ Kathy says her work was very crew-orientated, with a lot of data entry and report writing – but also there was a bit of ‘camp Mother’ in looking out for the team. ‘The crew were all special and would come to ask for help for a variety of reasons. Of course, the Captain and Chief Engineer also had occasional requests that needed to be looked after,’ she adds.

In February 2020, several weeks shy of the Africa Mercy 10-month surgical schedule duration, the Carters arrived to the field service in Senegal, West Africa. ‘Patients were arriving daily for their surgeries, the hospital was full of patients and families and the sound of laughter and singing permeated the ship’s wards,’ recalls Carter.  Then suddenly in March, the unprecedented global spread of COVID19 required immediate contingency, and the NGO paused the field service for the health and wellbeing of crew and patients. Shore leave was cancelled and surgery wound up. The vessel relocated to the Canary Islands, where it remains in an extended period of maintenance, until their return to Senegal in April 2021. The charity quickly refocused their healthcare work for this period into eLearning and online training for their healthcare colleagues in West Africa.

‘Onboard, community life was very important, particularly whilst we were in lockdown,’ explains Carter.  ‘Everyone was very supportive to one another. There were regular activities organised to keep the morale up as many crew returned home. Life onboard was quite different to when we were in field service. Sad to leave, we finally departed the Africa Mercy in August after serving a total of six months.’

Deployment of the world’s largest civilian hospital ship – Global Mercy

The Carters are joining the newest Mercy Ship in February 2021 as the Global Mercy heads to sea trials

In February 2021 Carter steps into the volunteer role of Second Engineer aboard the new Mercy Ship; 37,000 ton Global Mercy™, soon to undergo sea trials. Once again Kathy will also join the vessel’s crew as Technical Administrator.

The Global Mercy™ is scheduled to begin the journey to Africa in 2021 and will also operate in the sub-Saharan region, complementing the work of the Africa Mercy. The ships will operate on a staggered cycle of six months, ensuring there is always one vessel in service. The first field service location will be in West Africa, providing desperately needed operations for people who have no other access to the healthcare they need.

The global backlog of surgery means there has never been a more urgent time for Mercy Ships to increase healthcare services. The deployment of the Global Mercy ™ will more than double the surgical care and medical training Mercy Ships can provide for people who live in low-income countries in Africa.

The Global Mercy ™  will be crewed by 600 international volunteers in medical, maritime and operational roles. The 174-metre vessel has two hospital decks and includes six operating theatres, six wards, isolation, auxiliary services – and an ICU suite sponsored by private donations from New Zealand.

In addition to providing six surgical specialties onboard, the medical capacity build teams will serve alongside their local colleagues, multiplying the impact of mentoring programmes. To enhance this capability the Global Mercy ™ will be outfitted with state-of-the-art training spaces featuring a simulation lab with virtual and augmented reality, mannequins and other surgical training tools. Significantly, a simulated post-op care space will allow trainers to reproduce local operating conditions and limitations in order to teach best practices in low-resource environments.

Mercy Ships has volunteer opportunities for maritime, medical and operational crew in 2021 and beyond to help the charity double their impact for the under-served poor in Africa. For further information visit www.mercyships.org.nz/volunteer

Download the print article Professional Skipper Jan-Feb 2021

Take a tour of the Global Mercy™ as the vessel is prepared for sea trials

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the News

As the world’s largest purpose-built charity hospital ship joins the Mercy Ships fleet serving Sub-Saharan Africa, Janine Stewart discusses the uniques challenges of building a hospital ship with Chris Gregg, Managing Director of the #GlobalMercy

Ship Building: Expanding mercy – Mercy Ships nears completion of the MV Global Mercy

 

Written by Mercy Ships Board Chair Janine Stewart and Irene Kim, of MinterEllisonRuddWatts Construction Division

With thanks to CILT NZ magazine of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, published December 2020. www.cilt.co.nz

 

 

 

In the News

– new hope in the water.

Africa needs hope and healing now more than ever before, and our new hospital ship Global Mercy™  is shining the light of hope into difficult times.

Construction on the Global Mercy™  is nearing completion and soon she’ll be fitted out and undergoing sea trials. But now the search is on for the most important part of the ship – and that critical component, that beating heart need to bring the ship to life, is you.

The Global Mercy™ is the world’s largest civilian hospital ship and, together with our long-serving Africa Mercy, will bring hope and healing to the world’s poorest people. It’s been a massive undertaking and, as the Global Mercy™  begins her journey and years of service, we need more volunteers to bring her to life.

We know that’s a big ask especially in times like these, when uncertainties abound, health and economic challenges are constant and the thought of overseas travel seems impossible – but we know you. Your hearts are big and your mercy flows like a strong tide so we know you’ll give it some thought. We also know that the journey to service with Mercy Ships takes time and serious consideration which is why, if you are interested in exploring what’s involved, or have served previously on the Africa Mercy, the information you need has been put together here

We’re also filled with gratitude for the many donors who have helped fund the construction of this incredible vessel – and we thank you with all our hearts. What’s been achieved is remarkable.

It really is a very big ship and, for our volunteers, an experience potentially quite like no other. It’s built to more than double our capacity to deliver safe healthcare and medical training. At 174 metres long and weighing in at 37,000 gross tonnes, the Global Mercy™ will have state-of-the-art technology and instrumentation, six operating theatres and 199 hospital beds. Medical training and developing capacity in our host nations is a critical part of all our programmes and to facilitate this aspect of our work, the Global Mercy™  will have a training centre that includes a simulation lab, virtual reality stations, and the latest teaching equipment.

We will need 600 volunteers to power this new ship which has ample accommodation to make surgeons, nurses, maritime crew, cooks, teachers, electricians, technicians and all our other essential people feel at home.

The Global Mercy will join the Africa Mercy to serve Africa together and their combined medical technology, passionate crews, and partner support means many more people will be helped.

Free surgical procedures by some of the most well-trained physicians in the world remains an important part of our life-changing work. While our patients experience physical healing through the surgeries they receive, they often find much more. Children are able to go to school. Mothers and fathers are able to work and provide for their families. Community relationships are restored. For so many of our patients, access to surgery means finding hope again.

Mercy Ships is dedicated to leaving a legacy of hope and healing. Volunteers like you will help us continue to build up local doctors, nurses and healthcare systems, ensuring that more countries are better able to confront the unknown.

Over the next 50 years, it is estimated that more than 150,000 lives will be changed onboard the Global Mercy™ through surgery alone, with countless more lives helped by the ship’s medical training and infrastructure programmes. In close collaboration with our host nations in Africa, the Global Mercy™ , together with the Africa Mercy, will more than double the impact of our work.

More facts and figures, and a video about the Global Mercy here 

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

Related Posts

In the News

The Global Mercy™ is more than a hospital ship, she is a transportable community of 600+ volunteers. The international crew are dedicated to providing essential surgical services otherwise inaccessible, and to building the capacity of health care services in sub-Saharan Africa. more than 150,000 people in desperate need are estimated to receive life-transforming surgery onboard during the vessel’s 50-year lifespan.

Built to more than double the capacity of Mercy Ships to deliver safe healthcare and medical training,  at 174 metres long and weighing in at 37,000 gross tonnes, the Global Mercy™ is the world’s largest civilian hospital ship.  Medical training and developing capacity in our host nations is a critical part of all our programmes and to facilitate this aspect of our work, the Global Mercy™  will have a training centre that includes a simulation lab, virtual reality stations, and the latest teaching equipment.

Hospital Specifications

The hospital covers most of decks 3 and 4 on the Global Mercy™ – approximately 7,000 square metres containing supply and auxiliary services, 6 operating theatres, 102 acute care beds, 7 ICU/isolation beds and an additional 90 self-care beds. All pre-operative and post-operative work can be done onboard rather than ashore, which minimises the Mercy Ships footprint when operating in busy ports.

The Global Mercy™  is designed to carry out a wide range of surgeries including, maxillofacial and reconstructive surgery, tumour removal, cleft lip and palate repair, plastics, orthopaedic surgery, cataract removal, and obstetric fistula repair.

More about the mission of the Global Mercy here

Details, illustrations and Global Mercy Infographics

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

In the News

: TRANSFORM A LIFETIME.

Posted with permission from The Dissector, the official journal of the Perioperative Nurses College of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, produced quarterly (March, June, September & December) by Advantage Publishing Limited.

Kiwi operating theatre nurses discuss their professional experiences onboard the Mercy Ship in Senegal, West Africa.

Read the article here Dissector, NZNO June 2020

 

 

In the News

Our world looks very different today than it did this time last year. We are aware, now more than ever, of the healthcare fragility that many nations face.

When Whangamata couple Sinclair and Kathy Carter learned they had the skills needed to help provide essential surgery for people in West Africa, they were surprised – because Sinclair is a seafarer.

Sinclair Carter’s life at sea has run the gambit. From a family of seafarers going back two generations, the Chief Engineer began as an apprentice and sailed the across the Pacific, through Asia and Europe – but a hospital ship in Africa was something new entirely.

‘The industry has been good to me,’ explains Sinclair. ‘I saw there was a need. I had a desire to pass on knowledge and experience.’ That need was a volunteer opportunity aboard the 16,000 tonne Mercy Ship, a transportable platform for a world class surgical hospital dedicated to providing essential services for Africa’s poorest people.

 

Kathy’s experience as a project manager with a background in intensive care nursing joined the dots and in February the couple signed up for a three-month tour of duty volunteering with Mercy Ships in Senegal, West Africa. ‘We both decided that we wanted to do something which gave back to people in a more meaningful way, reflects Kathy. ‘We are the support service and keep things running so that others can treat those in need,’ adds Sinclair. ‘We provide the service platform to run the ship.’

Kathy Carter, Deck and Engineering Administrator, recording readings from the engine control room.

 

With Kathy as the deck administrator and Sinclair as second engineer, the couple’s volunteer service in the Africa Mercy technical team proved to be both compelling and vital. When the global COVID-19 outbreak occurred a month after their arrival, Mercy Ships shortened the 10-month field service in Senegal to eight months out of concern for the health and wellbeing of both patients and crew. The couple not only took the changed circumstances in their stride, they extended their original three-month tour-of-duty to six; until August.

‘I am blessed to have my wife with me during this time. We have kept each other grounded and philosophical about the events that have occurred,’ reflects Sinclair. ‘We have been fortunate to have our community ‘bubble’ here on the ship so we haven’t felt like we’re missing out on much. Perhaps being older makes us more accepting of the ‘restrictions’ being placed on us due to COVID19, however we just feel we are in the safest place right at the moment. We hope we can serve as role models to some of the younger crew.’

‘The engineering team are fantastic and working with them has been the real highlight of my time on Mercy Ships, says. Sinclair. ‘They are from a range of countries; Ghana, Sierra Leone, Benin, Cameroon, USA, Madagascar, Japan, UK, Denmark, Switzerland. Everybody is here because they want to be here. A whole bunch of people who have chosen to be here.’ The Carters will serve the remainder of their tour-of-duty on board the Mercy Ship docked in the Canary Islands in their COVID-19 free bubble of the remaining 130, primarily technical, crew members.

‘It will be difficult to return to the normal commercial world,’ reflects Sinclair.  ‘I think Mercy Ships has changed my attitude toward other people, helped me become more open, less judgemental.  I have become more conscious of how privileged and entitled we are in the Western world.’

For many people living in sub-Saharan Africa, the healthcare landscape is dire, with many lacking access to basic medical and surgical care. This is why Mercy Ships exists—to strengthen healthcare systems through training and mentoring while reducing the strain on those systems through free, life-changing surgery. And that is why huge-hearted people like Sinclair volunteer their technical skills; because ships of mercy couldn’t float without them.

Currently the charity’s emphasis is remotely providing e-Learning, specific healthcare courses and logistical support for local colleagues in the front line of the fight against COVID in West Africa, and the supply of PPE. However, Mercy Ships needs volunteers to power the hospital ships as they prepare to return to Africa in early 2021 to continue strengthening local healthcare systems for the future alongside the provision of essential surgery for the present.

There are volunteer opportunities for professional mariners who want to have their families at sea with them, who want to see something different and be part of the Mercy Ships mission of providing access to safe, timely healthcare.

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

In the News

IN WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA IN CONTRAVIRUS FIGHT.

Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director-General, Ghana Health Services, took delivery on June 18 of a donation of PPE designated for the nation of Ghana today by Mercy Ships President Rosa Whitaker on behalf of the charity to support the national battle with coronavirus.

“We applaud Ghana’s fight against this virus,” stated Whitaker. “Mercy Ships is committed to build on the collaboration between NGOs, the private sector and the public sector and encourages others to do the same,” she added.

“Although many have predicted that the pandemic is inevitable within Africa and that this continent will soon become the epicentre of the new outbreak, we stand with our African partners at this crucial time. It is our hope and belief that nations can get ahead of this curve and hold back the relentless effects that this pandemic could have on our formal and informal economies and people,” stated Whitaker.

“For more than 30 years, Mercy Ships has stood shoulder to shoulder with our African partners to address the global surgery crisis. Even though borders are closed, and we cannot physically be present right now, Mercy Ships continues to conduct online medical capacity training and support ongoing projects with partners on the ground. We are committed for our ship to return to help strengthen healthcare systems within West and Central Africa, as soon as the global situation allows,” said Whitaker.

Mercy Ships has donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to eight partner nations within West and Central Africa: Benin, Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo totalling 80,800 items and 20 infrared thermometers and will donate PPE to an additional three countries Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Guinea.

The donation to Ghana includes 9000 (PPE) items consisting of 1,500 nursing caps, 1,500 medical protective glasses, 1,500 masks FFP2, 1,500 pairs of gloves, 1,500 surgical gowns, 1,500 pairs of shoe covers and five Infrared Thermometers (IT).

The people of Ghana hold a warm place in the hearts of all Mercy Ships crew, volunteers, and international staff said Whitaker. Mercy Ships has been involved with Ghana since 1991 and a Mercy Ship has docked four times in Ghana. (1) The Africa Mercy has 85 long/short term crew from Africa, 10 of whom are Ghanaians in roles ranging from engineering to HR.

The donation was made in the presence of Dr Juliette Tuakli and Lucy Quist, Mercy Ships International Board Members who reside in Ghana.

(1) Mercy Ships field services to Ghana: (1991, 1994-1995, 2006-2007 and 2011-2012).

In the News

Day of the Seafarer 

Seafarers are key workers who keep our ships operational and use their skills to deliver humanitarian development and transform thousands of lives each year. On International Day of the Seafarer, we honour seafarers everywhere and highlight four of our incredible marine volunteers who power our ships. 

Mercy Ships floating hospital, the Africa Mercy, is the largest charity-run hospital ship in the world.

RODRIGO

Rodrigo Silva is our Chief Officer. Originally from Brazil, Rodrigo oversees the deck’s maintenance, cargo loading operations, treatment of freshwater, and sailing. He also leads the fire teams, amongst many other things.

“One of the highlights of volunteering with Mercy Ships is that I can do what I know how to do and have my family with me. One of the cornerstones of seafaring life is that we are away and missing the things that are happening back home with the kids, with schooling, and with your spouse. Being onboard with Mercy Ships is different; you’re able to be together. So you can work and, at the end of the day, walk back to your cabin and see your family. It’s unbelievably good.”

When asked if he would recommend working at Mercy Ships to other seafarers, Rodrigo, without hesitation, said, “I would encourage seafarers out there to come. You can expect an inviting work environment and the satisfaction of seeing your work making a real difference in the lives of the patients we serve.”

JOE

Joe Biney is from Ghana and has been volunteering with Mercy Ships since 1991. He volunteers onboard with his family. Joe is currently our Third Engineer and he and his team of engineers power the Africa Mercy from the Engine Room. Seafarers like Joe play a major part in delivering Mercy Ships medical capacity building and free surgery programmes. Without the generators in the Engine Room, there would be no lighting for the hospital, no power for the galley, and no air conditioning keeping the ship cool.

“With Mercy Ships, you are not alone. You have support. On a commercial ship, you may be alone, but onboard with Mercy Ships, people are standing with you. These people become your brothers and sisters, they become your friends. In the Engine Room, we work as a team. We have one goal that we are all working to achieve—to make sure people get help… It is a privilege and it is an opportunity and it is an honour to serve with Mercy Ships.”

 

TAYLOR

“This is where I am supposed to be. There is no question about that.”

Captain Taylor Perez was introduced to Mercy Ships in 1984 when his ship stopped in Hawaii to refuel on its way from the States to Asia. Our previous ship, the Anastasis, was docked nearby and some of the crew invited him onboard for lunch.

“I was absolutely stunned by the quality of the crew and atmosphere onboard,” he said. “They were very impressive, and it was a very professional organisation.”

After that meeting, Perez began to volunteer with Mercy Ships during his time off. Since then, he has captained every single one of the Mercy Ships fleet at one time or another and is now Captain of the current flagship, the Africa Mercy.

“The ship is the hospital. You can’t have the hospital without the ship. The doctors and nurses, who do such an amazing job, could not do it without the ship. The ship can’t operate without its mariners.

We don’t just need doctors and nurses, we need Deck Officers, Engine Ratings, ABs, Motormen, Engineers as well as carpenters, electricians and other  professionals who can take the time to see something different and be part of something with a big impact.”

RUBEN

Ruben Galama worked as a mechanical engineer in The Netherlands, prior to joining the Mercy Ships Engineering Department. He is currently working as an HVAC technician within the hotel engineering department.

“I originally signed up for one year and that was three and a half years ago! I don’t have any medical skills, but I do have the skills to help keep the ship operational and the hospital running so patients can get the treatment they need. Everyone onboard is a cog in the overall system and contributes towards the Africa Mercy achieving her goals of bringing hope and healing. Even though we are not directly involved with the patients, we are all a part of the team that makes this happen. It’s rewarding to be able to use my skills to make a difference.”

 

Our world looks very different today than it did this time last year. We are aware, now more than ever, of the healthcare fragility that many nations face. For many people living in sub-Saharan Africa, the healthcare landscape is even more dire, with many lacking access to basic medical and surgical care. This is why Mercy Ships exists—to strengthen healthcare systems through training and mentoring whilst reducing the strain on those systems through free, life-changing surgery. 

WOMEN IN STEM, Martina, Nic, Rahel and Veera

 

 

 

Mercy Ships needs volunteers like you to power our ships as we prepare to return to Africa to help rebuild and strengthen healthcare systems. We need professional mariners who want to see something different and be part of the Mercy Ships mission of providing access to safe, timely healthcare.

Find out more and take the first steps on your journey to Africa with Mercy Ships. 

In the News

Leaving a sustainable dental care footprint

– a unique perspective on providing sustainable dental care in Guinea, West Africa

                                                                                                                                      Published with thanks to NZ Dental Association news, Dec 2019 

Since 1978 the international hospital ship charity Mercy Ships has ‘hope and healing’ to the world’s forgotten poor by offering specialised surgeries, medical and dental training. Using the transportable platform of the 16,000 tonne Africa Mercy, the faith-based NGO spends 10 months at a time providing essential surgical and healthcare services to developing nations. The port city of Conakry was the hub of the NGO’s work for a fourth time, from August 2019 to June 2020.

“Mercy Ship runs on the goodwill of volunteers who give their time and skills to serve,” explains Dr Loo. “People from many nations, different cultures and languages all work together. It is a diverse community made up of incredible individuals. Many of these inspiring volunteers have dedicated years of their life away from home, foregoing a stable income and society’s mainstream definition of success.

“There were a number of factors that made practising dentistry vastly different than back home in New Zealand. The level of poverty, lack of education/awareness, lack of access to healthcare and medicine are a lot more significant in this part of the world. As a result we saw patients come in with enormous facial swellings that would have never been allowed to progress that far in New Zealand or another developed country.

“Due to the lack of access to antibiotics, dental abscess from an infected tooth could very well be a death sentence; a sad truth which is unheard of back home.

“Many of the patients with large untreated yet benign facial tumours had conditions which to developed large size, causing stigmatisation among their own community. They were inflicted with shame and some were outcast as a result.  These patients received free surgery on board the ship.

“Guinea is predominantly Muslim, with French widely spoken alongside a myriad of local languages. So during my days working at the dental clinic I would greet patients coming in or treatment in their local language of Fula, Onjarama (how are you?). I’ll never forget the delight on their faces when they heard the greeting in their own language.”

During the tour of duty in Guinea, parallel to patient care the Mercy Ships dental programme focused on empowering and enabling the local dental colleagues, a key way forward for the nation’s dental care system.

A CASE STUDY IN DENTAL SUSTAINABILITY – Dental Partner Unit Mentoring Programme

In addition to the Mercy Ships dental clinic which typically sees around 50 patients a day, a large dental project took place in partnership with Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry.

Mentoring was provided over 10 months for thirteen dentists, dental school staff and a total of seventy-one dental students (45 men and 26 women).  The project included extensive renovations of the entire first floor of the dental school and the donation of the necessary dental equipment for the school to fully integrate clinical training into their curriculum for students.  The renovations and equipping allow the school to have an 8-chair student dental clinic, a 3-chair faculty dental clinic, a dental simulation lab, administrative offices for the dental school, and a dental laboratory.  To ensure that the equipment receives proper maintenance and repairs, our Biomedical Facilitator conducted an eight-day training course specifically for the donated equipment.

The medical capacity building courses sought to improve the sterile processing practices used by technicians in Guinea’s hospitals and clinics.  Twenty-two participants attended the Sterile Processing Course in Conakry.  Following the course, fifteen were selected for additional training-of-trainers in order to be better equipped to train others.

A nutritional agriculture course was conducted with 32 participants (26 men and 6 women) from five non-government organizations from seven regions of Guinea, who received train-the-trainer instruction in nutritionally based, biologically and ecologically sustainable agriculture.  The course included both classroom and hands-on instruction; training in food transformation and measures to respond effectively to climate change impacts on agricultural practice and output. After the 22 weeks of training, the new trainers returned home to set up their own agriculture training project.

The impact made in Guinea during that 10-month period included the training of 1,099 local participants in healthcare courses, the provision of more than 41,000 free dental procedures,  and 2,442 free essential surgeries in orthopaedic, maxilla-facial, burns and plastics, obstetric fistula, paediatric general and ophthalmic specialities.

Dr Loo’s most meaningful Mercy Ships experiences included some non-dental interactions outside the clinic. “During the weekends I had the opportunity to help at an orphanage; Hope Village. We spent the day making crafts, singing, dancing and sharing a meal with the children. I had opportunity to learn from the lady in charge of the orphanage who shared her experiences going through the recent Ebola crisis. It was heartbreaking to hear her account of the tragedy, and the loss of so many people. Their joy was inspiring despite the little they had and all they had endured in recent years. I was deeply impacted by her strength in overwhelming circumstances and her transparency in sharing her journey.’

Published with thanks to NZ Dental Association news, Dec 2019 

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships