Claims executives Amanda Hastings and Alexander Geoghegan had the opportunity to visit the Africa Mercy during her call in Conakry in October 2018.
The Africa Mercy
Built in 1990, the Africa Mercy started life as the Dronning Ingrid, a Danish ferry built for the Danish State Railway. In 1999 she was bought by Mercy Ships and spent the better part of the next decade in Newcastle where she was transformed into a hospital ship. She entered service in 2007 and since then provided free access to safe surgical treatments in various African states, including Guinea, Cameroon, Madagascar, Ghana and Senegal.
Onboard there are four fully functioning operating theatres and throughout her time in her host country a variety of procedures are offered including maxfax surgeries (e.g. to correct cleft palates and removal of facial tumours), orthopaedics, cataract surgeries, plastic surgery (to assist with burns) and fistula surgeries.
The medical team onboard is made up of surgeons, ward doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists and technicians. It is basically a small but fully functioning hospital, complete with CT scanner, x-ray, biomed lab and wards.
We arrived onboard for an action packed four days, which included tours of the ship, hospital facilities onboard, the outpatient units, the dental clinic and the HOPE (Hospital Out-Patient Extension) centre. Both the dental clinic and HOPE centre are off-ship locations that Mercy Ships have refurbished to provide lasting and fully functioning medical facilities when Mercy Ships depart in June 2019.
Our first day on board saw us collecting scrubs and heading below to the hospital deck which is located on deck 4. The hospital is separate into two sections; to starboard are the operating theatres (of which there are four), the CT scanner, pharmacy and biomed lab. To port are the wards. Each ward is separated by surgery type. We also had a chance to visit the dockside outpatient facilities which included the physiotherapy centre and the eye centre, where cataract pre-screenings and bandage removals are done.
In the afternoon we visited the HOPE Centre, speaking to patients and their families and taking part in a craft activity. Volunteers from the ship get the opportunity to visit the HOPE Centre twice a week and help out with activities there. Our second day focused on exploring the ship – visiting the bridge and engine room. Amanda was possibly the keenest engine room visitor they had ever had! (In case anyone else is wandering the Africa Mercy is 16,572 GT, has 4 main engines, 4 auxiliary engines, 8 air conditioning units and a sewage treatment plant onboard).
In the afternoon, we met with the English volunteers onboard and bonded over tea and biscuits. We discussed the challenges of being away from home for such long periods (most of the volunteers serve on board for a year or more). The British crew are particularly thankful for the new UK volunteer coordinator – made possible through the support of the Club – who is now helping put in place for other regional offices!
On our final full day onboard we visited the new dental clinic. The clinic is part of a new project providing preventative medicine, as many of the extreme facial tumours that the Africa Mercy treats have their causes in inadequate access to dental care and treatment. The clinic is also working closely with a local University to provide practical training for their dental students, with the aim of providing sustainable dental care for the local population once the Africa Mercy departs.
Mercy Ships was a truly great experience to see first-hand the immense scale of their operation, how they handle their patients and their focus on the long term development of West African healthcare.