Hope and healing for West Africa
This month marks the third time the Port of Conakry has welcomed a Mercy ship.
This time it is the Africa Mercy – the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship.
For the next 10 months the hospital ship, with six operating theatres, will provide free specialised surgery and training for health care workers in Guinea, West Africa.
Matamata’s Janine Boyes is part of the core crew of the hospital ship.
Her administrative skills are essential to the complex process of co-ordinating the coming and going of the hundreds of short- term medical, maritime and operational volunteers aboard the hospital ship from weeks to months at a time.
Five short- term volunteers working as nurses, a surgeon, and a dental nurse arrive from New Zealand this month to join Ms Boyes and the full- time Kiwi pharmacist.
ship’s volunteers to a fullyfunctioning 450 international crew members. Ten more mainly medical New Zealand volunteers will serve before the end of the year.
In response to an invitation from the President of Guinea, Alpha Conde, the Mercy Ships programme strategy is to partner with the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene and other organisations to improve the country’s health care delivery system.
Thanks to donations from partnering organisations and individuals, surgery aboard ship is provided at no cost to the patients.
The surgical procedures include tumour removal, other maxillofacial reconstruction, plastic surgery, cleft lip and palate correction, cataract removal, obstetric fistula repair, oral and dental surgery and orthopaedic help for those with club foot and bowed legs.
Potential patients have been encouraged to attend specific screening days to receive appointments for their specific medical needs.
The Africa Mercy is a surgical hospital ship and cannot treat long-term illness.
Ms Boyes will assist in the administration of a oneday screening in the Conakry area next week to select patients with treatable conditions. More than 805 patients in remote parts of the country have already been screened.
President Conde and Minister of Health Keita Naman asked the founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, for 50 per cent of the patients to come from the interior regions.
In order to fulfil that request, three more screening trips are planned to the interior of Guinea.
On shore the Mercy Ships Eye Team will partner with the government and various other groups to screen and schedule individuals for eye surgery throughout the 10-month stay.
Cataract surgery, performed in a simple 15- minute procedure, restores sight for hundreds of people.
An off-ship dental clinic will be established, and screening will take place weekly.
Guinea is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 178 out of 187 on the UN Human Development Index.
According to the World Health Organisation, life expectancy is only 54.1 years, and the under-five mortality rate is 142 out of 1000.
In 2010, Guinea held its first democratic elections, following 24 years under a dictator and two years under military control.
Guinea’s health system has remained relatively stable during this democratic transition.
The Ministry of
Health and Public Hygiene has 412 public health facilities and 40 hospitals for a population of almost 10 million.
However, services are severely lacking, as hospitals are in dire need of more staff, supplies, equipment, and general funds.
In partnership with other international organisations, the Mercy Ship will also provide training for selected local medical personnel who will continue to offer medical care long after the ship leaves.
The training/ mentoring programmes will include fistula surgeons.
In addition, agricultural specialists will be involved with training local partners, who will in turn train farmers in aspects of sustainable, organic farming techniques to increase nutrition, thus improving general health.
Ms Boyes is financed by donations by friends, family, and by the congregation of Matamata Baptist Church. She is grateful for this community support.
Mercy Ships has vacancies for nurses between January and June 2013, and volunteer opportunities in other medical, maritime and operational areas.
On board: Matamata’s Janine Boyes is part of the core crew of the hospital ship Africa Mercy.