Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Mercy Ships: Carriers of Hope

12.12.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Health is priceless. This is a statement that attests to the importance of good health, and also how ill health can have negative effects on individuals and society at large. Sometimes, staying healthy requires huge sums of money, which is not accessible to many members of society. To overcome this lack of health opportunities, several voluntary associations specialized in the medical field, have decided to mobilize to offer help and put a smile on the faces of the most vulnerable people around the world. Among these is the international humanitarian Non-Governmental Organizations, Mercy Ships. Mercy Ships are a non-profit association founded on Christian values whose mission is to improve access to healthcare in developing countries in Africa.

The Mercy Ships’ objective is very simple. If vulnerable people cannot have access to health care services due to lack of resources or proximity, they would bring healthcare services to them; even if it is sporadically through hospital ships. In this light, three ships have been put in place by the association to enable them to achieve their goals. After the first two boats, “the Anastasis”, an Italian liner, and the “Caribbean Mercy”, a Danish ferry, comes to the “Africa Mercy” which sails the seas of the globe to provide healthcare to the most deprived and needy people. Since its creation in 1978, Mercy Ships have always had positive results which make it one of the most important associations in the world.

The Africa Mercy

Just mentioning the name Mercy Ships in a country is enough to give to many people hope. To this day, people in 18 countries in Africa, the main beneficiary region, have already experienced the joy of receiving free medical care from Mercy Ships’ hospital ships. They are specialized in alleviating the burden of disease and distress among the poor and providing corrective and specialized surgical interventions.

With a capacity of 1,200 square meters, the “Africa Mercy” is the largest hospital ship in the world. Like any modern hospital, it is divided into several departments. In its specific case, it is divided into sections containing equipment and services. Africa Mercy has five theatres and a 4-bed intensive care unit, making it bigger than the previous ships. It also has multiple hospital rooms, 80 beds, a scanner, a radiology department and a laboratory. There are also infrastructures necessary for the rehabilitation of patients aboard the Africa Mercy. Other infrastructures include a school, a swimming pool, supermarkets and sports areas.

Aboard the Africa Mercy, averages of 400 qualified professionals from 40 different nations volunteer their services. Unlike pre-selected patients who receive free care, these professionals still have to pay to keep the ship running.

According to the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, more people die each year from a lack of safe surgery than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Among the countries Mercy Ships serves, access to safe, affordable and timely surgery is extremely limited. As a result, countless people suffer and die from “diseases of poverty” that can easily be cured. Mercy Ships is currently focused on sub-Saharan Africa

Organization and funding

With activities centered on the African continent through the activities of Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships register more than 1,100 volunteers that put their assets and philanthropy at the service of the neediest people each year. In addition to the 400 medical professionals from 40 nations who make up this qualified workforce, it should be noted that the ship also needs electricians, carpenters, cooks, hairdressers, hostesses, receptionists, officers, mechanics, teachers, chaplains, among others. According to Charlie Camilleri, the ship’s senior engineering manager, “Each of these people is an essential link in the chain. The surgeon is certainly very important, but he needs the electrician because, without him, he can do nothing”.

As for funding, the NGO Mercy Ships, in order to properly carry out its missions around the world, make use of donations and legacies. According to the “Mercy Ships Switzerland 2017 Financial Report”, Mercy Ships had to rely on the loyalty of its donors to cover its expenses and support the work of the organization. In addition to the growing number of the Swiss volunteers on board the ship that year, 62 other volunteers contributed a total of 5439 days of service, which sums up to 3.7 million Swiss francs (CHF) for a total of CHF 4,698,315 excluding other charges which summed up to CHF 9,692.  According to the report, CHF 3,187,614 came in from donations and legacies (undisclosed donations), CHF 1,246,071 from disclosed donations, CHF 241,379 from the personnel of Africa Mercy and CHF 32,944 as other income. 25% of this amount were operating costs while the remaining 75% as field expenses.

Free health care

The primary aim of the international humanitarian NGO, Mercy Ships, is to provide free health care to the poorest people of the South. The people pre-selected to receive this care do not have to pay a single cent, as the whole package is free, regardless of the disease being treated. Only the governments of the countries where the vessel docks, generally for ten months, make financial and material commitments to enable the smooth running of the mission. In the case of Cameroon, for example, the government had to buy fuel for Africa Mercy, transport patients to the ship and takes part in communication around the NGO’s initiative.

The hospital ship is now offering free healthcare in Senegal since August 14, 2019, and will be there until June 2020. During these ten months, thousands of Senegalese will have the chance to receive medical treatment on board the ship at the port of Dakar. Estimated at about 3,000, most of the patients currently being treated on board do not have the means to undergo surgery in the country’s public facilities. In addition to this free health care, jobs are also created every time the Africa Mercy docks in a country.

Training and job creation

Whenever Africa Mercy docks in a country, it creates jobs and trains medical aspirants, in addition to the free healthcare that it usually provides. In Senegal, for example, where the ship is currently docked, the Minister of Health made it clear that the ship’s visit to the country presents an opportunity for the many young Senegalese people who would like to put their skills at the service of the community. These young Senegalese people work on the boat as volunteers and are paid on a proportional basis.

In addition to these jobs created, the arrival of Mercy Ships is also an opportunity for health professionals to enhance their surgical knowledge and skills. Medical staff in the cities systematically receives training to improve their knowledge and surgical practices whenever they visit. For this reason, the hospital ship has schools where hundreds of students study.

The long-term objective is not only to meet the immediate surgical needs of the population, but also to make countries independent and capable by adequately training doctors, surgeons and other health professionals so that the respective nations can still have access to adequate medical services after the hospital ship leaves for other missions.

Filling the medical deficit

The mission of the NGO Mercy Ships around the world aims to fill the medical gap for patients scattered all over the world. According to a study published in 2010 in the medical journal “The Lancet” entitled, Global Surgery 2030, more than 5 billion people lack sufficient access to essential surgical care. At least 40% of surgical cases are left untreated every year in sub-Saharan Africa, 85% of children need surgical care before the age of 15 and 32.9% of deaths worldwide are related to a lack of access to surgical care.

The same study also shows that in the West and Sub-Saharan Africa, 93% of people are deprived of surgical care. According to the World Health Organization [W.H.O], there are areas where there is an average of two doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, as compared to 32 in Europe. Even life expectancy is only 52 years, compared to 74 in Europe.

Beyond the human tragedy, the “Lancet Commission on Global Surgery” study group highlighted the disastrous economic consequences of untreated surgical problems. Without urgent improvements in health systems by 2030, low- and middle-income countries will suffer US$12.3 billion in losses due to a lack of access to surgical care with a direct negative impact on Gross Domestic Product growth.

Hope in numbers

Through all its surgical programs, Mercy Ships have already performed more than 82,000 operations that have transformed and saved lives. More than 2.5 million people have already benefited from its services across Africa. Wherever it is time to go, the members of this humanitarian mission always leave positive results and smiles behind. In Douala, Cameroon, Mercy Ships’ healthcare staff provided care to 2,468 patients in orthopaedic, maxillofacial, plastic, ophthalmic and obstetric fistula surgery, 10,318 dental patients and more than 24,401 others consultations by ophthalmologists between August 16, 2017, and May 5, 2018. In addition, 82 health personnel were trained in Otorhinolaryngology, ophthalmology, obstetrical fistulas, intensive care and burns, while 1,432 Cameroonian doctors were trained in primary care in trauma, pain management and nutrition.

This praiseworthy record is not only from Central African country like Cameroon. Since 1990, Mercy Ships have carried about thirty field missions in 12 West African countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Sénégal Ghana and Togo. In Cameroon more than 3,099 patients were seen in consultation and Ophthalmological treatments, 1,718 glasses were distributed, 272 maxillofacial surgical procedures, 291 general surgery procedures and 4,071 patients received in oral hygiene consultations.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google images & mercyships /illustration

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