Kiwis bring cures to Third World
Retired Naval Commander Larry Robbins is volunteering his seafaring experience for six months as a deck officer on the Africa Mercy.
The ship is a part of the Mercy Ships charity that spends 10 months each year providing free healthcare services in third world countries. This year they decided to visit the Republic of Congo.
Mercy Ships began its first field service with a patient selection day to process the crowds of people seeking help from the charity for their conditions, because of the lack of access to health care within the nation.
It took more than 12 hours for all the potential patients to be seen by the medical teams, with the final cases being examined by torch light.
Mr Robbins served as an escort for many of the patients as they were guided from having their medical history recorded, to blood pressure and temperature readings, blood tests taken, and finally an examination performed by a surgeon to determine if the condition could be successfully treated on-board.
‘‘Patient selection day was an amazing experience. Masses of people were waiting in line for hours before being moved through the various processes,’’ he says.
Mr Robbins was chief executive of the New Zealand National Maritime Museum, now the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, for seven and a half years.
He says most people have ‘‘conditions you would rarely see in New Zealand’’.
‘‘One of the Congolese working as a translator even told me that he was similarly amazed, as the conditions were rarely seen in the city. He assumed it is because people hide themselves away in shame, with no hope of treatment.’’
The first patient Mr Robbins saw was Ebenezer, a Nigerian who discovered Mercy Ships after searching online to find a cure for his facial tumour.
Ebenezer was unable to get treatment in Nigeria so he travelled to Guinea to find Mercy Ships, only to find they had already left the port after their 10-month service.
By the time he reached Brazzaville in the Congo, he was left with no more money and had no knowledge of French or any tribal languages.
Luckily a fellow Nigerian came to his aid, by paying his air fare to Point Noire where the Africa Mercy is docked.
Ebenezer became one of the first people to be scheduled for surgery, and his facial tumour was successfully removed.
He will receive follow-up surgery on the ship in two to three months.
About 40 Kiwis volunteer with Mercy Ships every year, from weeks to years at a time. Kiwis are now working in the ship’s dental clinic, operating theatres, wards, pharmacy, and other departments.
Waiting patiently: Crowds of people wait in the rising heat in the Republic of Congo desperately hoping for medical care from Mercy Ships.