EARLIER this year in Madagascar, a man in his 60s named Sambany made international news after volunteer surgeons from Mercy Ships removed a 16-pound tumor from his face. For decades, he had sought treatment at 10 hospitals, most of which lacked surgeons. He was ostracized, then physically unable to work. His family had to sell a rice field just to pay for the cost of getting to the hospital (the surgery itself was provided free).
Earlier this week, the United Nations adopted 17 proposed sustainable development goals, which reflect the resolve of world leaders to “end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies.”
Although admirable, these goals cannot be achieved without explicitly addressing one of the most crucial needs facing the world: a lack of access to surgery. The aim of universal access to “health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured,” will come to nothing without it.
Most of the world lacks access to safe, affordable and timely surgical care.
Every year over 80 million people worldwide face financial catastrophe if they get surgery. And while the individual cost of getting surgery is great, the societal cost of inaction is staggering. If nothing is done to increase surgical access, developing nations are projected to lose $12.3 trillion from their gross domestic products between now and 2030.
Currently, infectious disease interventions are the main focus of global health policies, because many countries lack the personnel and infrastructure to carry out surgical interventions successfully.
Despite the fact that nearly one-third of human disease is amenable to surgery, it remains overlooked in much of the world.
This is shortsighted. After all, the treatment of solid tumors in the United States began with surgeons: William Stewart Halsted described the surgical removal of breast cancer in 1894, well ahead of chemotherapy. Surgery and early detection alone drove substantial drops in breast cancer mortality. Today over 60 percent of cancer diagnoses benefit from surgical intervention.
Surgery is more than just facial tumors, breast cancer and trauma; it is a crosscutting intervention, involved in every disease category from infections to blindness, from congenital abnormalities to maternal conditions, from the neurological to the cardiac to the neoplastic. To put this in perspective, H.I.V., tuberculosis and malaria — which have captured the global conversation — currently make up less than one-tenth of the global disease burden, combined.
Why, then, has surgery been ignored? In part, because expanding surgery seems daunting and expensive. Why not just focus global energy on vaccines, for example, which can be mass-produced and delivered to the population, rather than scaling up an entire health infrastructure? After all, providing surgery requires reliable electricity, water, suction, sterilization, oxygen — as well as surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and biomedical technicians.
But this is exactly what makes improving surgery ideal. Improve a surgical system, and you improve the very things that are necessary for the delivery of health care in general. Doing so is less costly than it might initially seem. The cost of scaling up a surgical system in resource-poor countries — about $300 billion over 18 years — represents only about 5 percent of the total combined expenses that governments in low- and lower-middle-income countries spend on health annually, and pales in comparison with the $12.3 trillion cost of inaction. And spending that money now will not only lower the current surgical disease burden and allow patients to return to economic productivity, but it will also make the health system itself more resilient when shocks like Ebola hit.
Moreover, reliable surgical infrastructure strengthens entire health systems. It is not enough to prevent maternal deaths during childbirth if a health care system cannot care for the children after birth. It is not enough to treat tuberculosis successfully if the patient then dies from a perforated appendix. Surgical scale-up is not and has never been envisioned to exclude other global health priorities — surgery is necessary to meet all global health priorities.
It is this inherent synergy that makes surgical delivery a cost-effective intervention. Researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities, including one of us, recently compared the cost-effectiveness of surgical care with that of multiple accepted global health interventions.
They found that general surgeries, ophthalmic surgeries and cleft palate repairs, among others, had a similar cost effectiveness to some vaccinations, and that cesarean sections and orthopedic surgeries were potentially more cost effective than medical treatments for heart disease and H.I.V.
For Sambany, surgery was a personal issue. For developing nations, it is an economic issue. For the world, it is a moral issue, a question of equity. Surgery has been called the “neglected stepchild of global public health.” To achieve the recently approved global development goals, world leaders must explicitly develop systems to bring access to safe, affordable and timely surgery to those who need it.
Mercy Ships Canada is able to exist only because of our supporters. Yes, by supporters I mean those who donate their time and money, but our definition goes beyond that.
A supporter is a social media ambassador who shares our stories with their networks.
A supporter is someone who requests a speaker for their church or workplace.
A supporter is someone who talks about our mission with their friends, neighbours and communities.
While those who donate their time and money are crucial to our mission, we rely on a much greater network to fulfil our goals.There are many ways to support Mercy Ships beyond volunteering and donating money. Over the next few months I’m going to share with you some of the ways you can help bring hope and healing!
Collect Air Miles Points
Mercy Ships Canada works to raise funds, recruit volunteers and serve our supporters all across this great big country from one small office in Victoria, BC. We do what we can over the phone, via email and traditional mail and even Skype. But occasionally this just isn’t enough.
From time to time throughout the year MSCA employees have to travel. We travel to meet with existing donors, to attend medical and corporate conferences in hopes of meeting new volunteers and donors, to speak in front of large audiences about our mission and to nurture partnerships. While we do what we can from our west coast office, sometimes travel is just necessary.
Here is where you come in.
Travel within Canada isn’t cheap. This year to date, MSCA would have had to spend more than $7,000 on flights. But we haven’t had to because supporters across the country are collecting Air Miles points on our behalf.
About four years ago we launched our Mercy Miles program. You’ve heard of Air Miles? It’s that, but with a network of people collecting points for the same account, the Mercy Ships account.
Our supporters request a Mercy Miles card and use it as they would an Air Miles card at one of the 220 eligible retailers. While it can seem like it’s taking forever to build up points when you’re working at it on your own, when there are hundreds of you the points accrue faster than you would think!
In 2015 MSCA hasn’t had to spend any money on flights thanks to supporters nation wide collecting Mercy Miles on our behalf. That’s more than $7,000 that has gone directly into programs and transforming the lives of those we serve. All thanks to our supporters using our Mercy Miles cards!
Do you have your card yet? If not feel free to email Jane McIntosh or call our office toll free 1-866-900-7447 and we will put one in the mail.
The simple act of swiping a card, when done by many, has brought hope and healing to so many people this last year.
Thank you to those who swiped!
– Colleen Sullivan, Mercy Ships Canada Manager of Advancement
Our Canadian volunteers come from near and far, small cities, large cities, even a few towns that are hard to find on the map! Over the past two years our alumni has been growing in the city of Chilliwack, British Columbia and we would like to highlight the good work and commitment of six lovely Chilliwackians!
Nelleke has been volunteering on and off as a Nurse with Mercy Ships since 2008. Coming from a family of 8 with 23 nieces and nephews, Nelleke knows what it is like to be a part of a big family. After researching Mercy Ships in 2008 Nelleke was immediately attracted to the experience and soon found a second big family onboard!
“I signed up for two months, which I thought was a really long time, and convinced my cousin to join me. We boarded the ship in August 2008 and ended up staying for 4 ½ months!”
Kathryn lived onboard the Africa Mercy as a long term crew member for around four years! As the Ophthalmic Team Supervisor, Stock oversaw a group of ophthalmic specialists in providing eye care, glasses and surgeries, primarily for cataracts and pterygiums.
“Many children are born with cataracts in both eyes and have never seen. When that is corrected, there is sensory overload at first, and then we can literally watch them as they ‘learn to see’ – it is a remarkable and breathtaking experience”
Shanna worked onboard the Africa Mercy for five months. The 19 year-old stylist followed in the footsteps of the ship’s previous two hairdressers who hail from Calgary, Alberta and Guelph, Ontario. Shanna did not know Mercy Ships needed professionals outside the medical field until Kathryn Stock returned to Chilliwack from the ship and spoke about her experience.
“A thought popped into my mind. I will check the website and see what else is needed. So I did. And 30 seconds after tears came down my cheeks. Under ‘urgent’ in bright red letters was ‘Hairstylist’”
19-year-old Marlayna very recently returned from the Africa Mercy where she worked as a cook onboard for three months. Marlayna had many life changing moments including meeting 60-year-old Sambany, a patient who had his 16.46lb facial tumour removed.
“My experience on the ship has changed my life, Africa will forever hold a place in my heart and I will be back”
Emma, the most recent and at age 18 the youngest was inspired by youth in her community and her older sister Marlayna to follow in her footsteps and volunteer as a cook onboard for three months also.
“My sister had a great experience and inspired me a lot, I’ve also done a few short term missions which I’ve enjoyed greatly”
We are very grateful for these wonderful ladies, their dedication and the difference they have made in so many people’s lives. Check back for more short bios on our Canadian crew as our 2015-2016 field service in Madagascar continues.
He doesn’t see what we see – the large brown eyes, the enchanting inquisitiveness. It has actually been a mission to get to see those big brown eyes. When we first met him, he kept his head down shyly most of the time. But, bit by bit – salama (hello) by salama – his head would come up a fraction quicker, a fraction higher.
His fascination with our world was quickly obvious.
We couldn’t help but think, “Are we in the presence of a future Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Galileo? What does he see in that floor that we don’t see?” To us, it was a flat concrete slab, useful mainly for standing on. But to Dyllan, it was a concrete garden playground, fertile with possibilities.
Unfortunately, his perception of himself is inaccurate and discolored. He can’t get seem to get past the skin draped across his upper body and stretching across his left arm like an uncomfortable, restrictive blanket that tries to grasp his face and stifles his neck movement. He focuses on the forlorn lumps that make up his left ear.
It’s a miracle he’s still alive.
One ill-fated day, when Dyllan was three, the wind pushed a door, which pushed a cooking set (a cooking pot sitting on a fire-containing base), which pushed boiling water out and down, down, down … onto Dyllan. The pain and screams were horrifying. (more…)
We have arrived back in the beautiful island nation of Madagascar and couldn’t be more excited for the hospital doors to be open (or swinging)!
Madagascar is well known for it’s beautiful scenery and unique animals. It’s less known however for it’s poverty – that for a population of 23 million, there are 92% of which live on less than $2 per day. They have 2 doctors per 10 000 people compared to Canada which has 21 doctors/10 000 people. Similarly there are 57 dental professionals for the whole of Madagascar while in Canada there are 19,563.
The Human Development Index is a rank of countries in order from most developed to least developed. The three subjects which they use to measure this are life expectancy, education and income. Madagascar ranks 155th on the HDI index. Canada is ranked 8th.
During the Africa Mercy’s stay in the port of Toamasina, we plan to provide over 2,200 surgeries for adult and child patients onboard, treat over 10,000 at a land-based dental clinic, and provide holistic healthcare education to Malagasy health care professionals.
Our team was hard at work well before the ship arrived!
The screening team worked tirelessly over the summer to find and meet patients in need of medical care. They visited cities all over the island, so that we can offer surgery even to those who are far from the port city.
The team worked very hard to also renovate the new Physical Therapy department to teach in!
What’s going on now?
A lot! The dental clinic opened on September 3rd, first surgeries began on September 8th, surgical skills and training is under way and there will be screenings held throughout the field service.
There will be lots to report back to you on over the next coming months so make sure to return for updates on patients, our crew and the work being done with your support to bring free healthcare to thousands in Madagascar!