Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sierra Leone Welcome Mercy Ships into Port of Freetown

The Africa Mercy sails up the river into the port of Freetown.
This week marks the fifth time in 18 years that Freetown has welcomed a Mercy Ship; this time it is the Africa Mercy – the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship. For the next ten months, Mercy Ships is offering its state-of-the-art hospital ship – with six operating theaters, lab, pharmacy, 78 beds, and an outpatient clinic – to partner alongside the Sierra Leonean government. The ship will provide free health care to the people of Sierra Leone and training for health care workers until November 2011.

In response to an invitation from the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, Mercy Ships program strategy has been carefully aligned with the country’s current five-year health care plan.

Life-changing surgeries such as tumor removal, cleft lip and palate correction, cataract removal, orthopedics and plastics will be offered onboard the ship for individuals that qualify with these conditions. Potential patients have been encouraged to attend specific screening days to receive appointments for their specific medical needs. Advance teams have already conducted screenings in six locations upcountry, seeing more than 5,000 patients prior to the ship’s arrival.

Sierra Leone has made a significant effort to address health care concerns in their country, but still faces challenges. Last year, the nation implemented a free health care policy for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under the age of five. This initiative is very positive, but the nation still ranks at the bottom of the 2010 United Nations Human Development Index (at 158 out of 169). The infant mortality rate in Sierra Leone is 123 per 1,000 births. And with only one dentist for every one million people in Sierra Leone, as compared to 6,000 dentists per million people in the U.S., Mercy Ships investment in the health sector is welcome.

The Mercy Ships Eye Team will partner with the Kissy Eye Clinic to screen and schedule qualified individuals for surgeries. Cataract surgeries are performed in a simple 15-minute procedure, restoring sight for hundreds of vision-impaired individuals. Last year, the Mercy Ships Eye Team performed 2,512 eye surgeries on 2,331 patients. In 2009, Mercy Ships trained six ophthalmologists from Benin, West Africa, in the cataract correction technique. After training, the surgeons increased the number of procedures in their local clinics from 320 surgeries per year to 2000 surgeries per year (combined).

The Sierra Leonean Police Force Band was onhand to
help in the welcome of the Africa Mercy and her crew.

In partnership with other international organizations the Mercy Ship has been invited to provide training for local medical personnel who will add capacity long after the ship leaves. The training/mentoring programs will include, but are not limited to, surgeons, nurses, biomedical technicians, hospital leadership, and lab technicians. In addition, agriculture specialists onboard ship will be involved with training of local partners who will in turn train farmers in aspects of sustainable, organic farming techniques to increase nutrition.

Since 1978, Mercy Ships has mobilized people and resources worldwide to provide free health care and sustainable development in the developing world. Each year volunteers from over 40 nations bring their own unique skill sets onboard the Africa Mercy. Positions include physicians, medical personnel, engineers, maritime crew, galley cooks, hospitality workers and teachers. All professional volunteers pay their own airfare as well room and board for the privilege of serving in Sierra Leone, helping to keep the provision of services free to the recipients.

Please click here to view a video of Medical Screening at the 2010 Togo Field Service, the Mercy Ship’s previous port of service.

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