Mercy Ships makes first visit to Congo-Brazzaville04.09.2013-
August 9th marked the first time that the Republic of the Congo welcomed a Mercy Ship to its shores in western Africa. The 16,500-ton Africa Mercy will spend 10 months (until June 2014) docked in Pointe Noire, providing free specialized surgeries, developmental programs and training for healthcare workers in the nation. Last year nearly 135 volunteers from across Canada joined in the mission during the field service in Guinea.
In response to an invitation from the President of the Republic of the Congo, His Excellency Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Africa Mercy and her crew of more than 400 volunteers, including 60 Canadians, will provide direct medical services and training to improve the local capacity of the Congolese health system.
“His Excellency has made health care a priority. Mercy Ships hopes to contribute to this development, especially those most in need of the surgical care that this floating hospital will make possible,” stated Mercy Ships President/Founder Don Stephens. “Together, Congolese and Mercy Ships medical professionals will strengthen and build the capacity of the healthcare infrastructure in Congo- Brazzaville. We are grateful for this opportunity.”
According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy in the Republic of Congo is only 52 years, and the under-five mortality rate is 108 out of 1000 – far higher than the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goal of 60 out of 1000.
Years of civil war has caused massive damage to infrastructure. About half of the roads are impassable which severely limits delivery of health services, and entire provinces lack access to clean water. Medical facilities are extremely limited and highly inadequate. Most remaining health facilities are concentrated in urban areas. Additionally, a lack of qualified health personnel inhibits the quality of health services. There are only two physicians per 10,000 people.
While docked in port, Mercy Ships expects to provide approximately1550 surgeries and 1900 cataract removals in the ship's hospital. According to the Africa Mercy Managing Director, Donovan Palmer, Mercy Ships will also serve almost 10,000 dental patients, mentor 40-50 local medical professionals, and train hundreds in specialized courses.
Surgeries will include removal of life-threatening tumors, cleft lip and palate repairs, plastic reconstruction for severe burn-related injuries, hernia repairs, cataract removal, correction for orthopedic deformities (club foot, bowed legs, “knocked knees,” and other severe abnormalities), obstetric fistula repair, dental care, and palliative care for untreatable conditions.
There are currently 30 Canadians onboard the Africa Mercy, with many more scheduled to serve on the ship this year. Tim Maloney, Canadian National Director of Mercy Ships, says, “Mercy Ships is truly grateful for the Canadians who have chosen to do what they can to support the work of bringing hope and healing to the world’s poor. We are proud of our volunteers and of the generous spirit of our country.”
Mercy Ships will also support continuing education opportunities for practicing professionals in the nation. These include one-on-one mentoring for selected Congolese surgeons, nurses, anesthetists and sterile processing technicians. Additionally, courses will be offered in local hospitals in the areas of basic surgical skills, ultrasound, bio-medical equipment repair, leadership and management. An agricultural program will address food security and nutrition.
The Africa Mercy is a surgical hospital ship and cannot treat long-term illness such as diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell anemia, ulcers, HIV/Aids or heart conditions, stated a spokesperson.