It goes without saying 2020 turned out very differently than we all expected.
COVID-19 has changed the world we live in, affecting everything from a routine trip to the grocery store – that often involves forgetting your mask in the car – to attending a child’s hockey practice at the local arena (if hockey is even running in your area).
Amidst all the adjustments we continue to face, one thing has not changed: the need to strengthen healthcare systems in the world’s poorest nations.
In fact, the pandemic has drawn greater attention to how incredibly fragile many of these systems are. 5 billion people still lack access to safe, timely and affordable surgery. The global surgery crisis has not been on pause these past many months, and neither has the mission and work of Mercy Ships.
Committed to Africa
As circumstances surrounding the pandemic continue to shift and evolve, Mercy Ships remains committed to its mission to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor in Africa. Although it was difficult to have the Africa Mercy depart Senegal in March two months earlier than scheduled, there is still much reason to celebrate the great results of the Senegal Field Service: 1,407 life-changing surgeries performed, 5,591 dental patients treated, and 1,286 local healthcare professionals trained and mentored. Yet more hope and healing remains for this beautiful nation as Mercy Ships plans to continue what was started by returning to Senegal for a second field service in April 2021. Communication with the Senegalese government is positive, and a return is foreseeable if circumstances allow.
Hospital ships not only provide a unique platform for healthcare delivery in the nations Mercy Ships serves; they remain the greatest tool for strengthening existing healthcare systems through medical capacity building projects and training. In an effort to ensure the Africa Mercy is ready for the upcoming field service, the ship is undergoing an extended annual maintenance phase in order to create acceptable conditions for a return to Africa. The four main areas of improvement include: HVAC, cabins, the dining room and an adapted COVID-19 operating plan. These measures will help protect crew and patients.
Active in Africa
In the meantime, Mercy Ships has focused its efforts on medical capacity building projects and providing resources to partner nations to battle against COVID-19.
In April, current African Bureau Director for Mercy Ships, Dr. Pierre M’Pele, and his team implemented the “Stop COVID-19” initiative, which provides significant donations of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to frontline healthcare workers in Africa to help combat the spread of the virus while also protecting those on the frontlines. This initiative is operating in eleven partner countries in Africa, including Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, DR Congo, Guinea and Madagascar.
Mercy Ships is also still extremely active in Guinea and continuing a collaboration with the Gamal Dental Clinic at Gamal Abdul Nasser University in Conakry. Mercy Ships assisted the dental school in modifying their student dental clinic in response to COVID-19 and is actively contributing to distance education from a digital screen, as well as additional e-learning, on-site training and mentoring.
The Mercy Ships mental health team has been conducting health and well-being eLearning sessions for caregivers in West Africa during the COVID crisis, recognizing mental health is as important as physical health during this time. A new eLearning course called, ‘Palliative Care Principles and Practices’ was also recently launched.
Scaling Up for Even Greater Impact
In early October, with great joy and gratitude Mercy Ships publicly announced the launch of the brand new ship, the Global Mercy, which will more than double the capacity to deliver life-changing healthcare services and medical training to Africa. Over the next 50 years, it is estimated that more than 150,000 lives will be changed onboard the Global Mercy through surgery alone. Yet the ship is not only a world-class floating hospital it is also a state-of-the-art floating training centre. The Global Mercy will significantly increase Mercy Ships ability to provide training and mentoring for local healthcare professionals in the countries it serves.
Mercy Ships International Programs has been busy strategically planning its approach in 2021 in order to increase the impact of the organization’s work as it prepares for two ships in field service. A host of medical capacity building initiatives are being planned in several partner nations with a particular focus on biomedical training, mental health training, the Food for Life agriculture program, and other online eLearning courses.
Mercy Ships Canada continues to contribute to the larger effort of the organization through our existing Joint Programs Agreement, and Canadian team members serving in the areas of Pharmacy and Country Engagement.
Navigating the Challenges
As Mercy Ships eagerly awaits a return to field service, it is important to recognize the many challenges in doing so. Mercy Ships mobilizes volunteers from more than 50 nations each year, and COVID-19 has created an extremely challenging international transportation environment. The state of the pandemic is unique in individual countries and not all contexts are the same.
The safety of Mercy Ships volunteer crew and patients remain the top priority. The organization is committed to providing effective testing resources on the ship to ensure the highest level of health and safety for both crew and patients.
We ask that you please join us in praying for continued wisdom in navigating these choppy waters so the Africa Mercy can return to Senegal as planned in April 2021 to bring hope and healing to so many in desperate need.