Cotonou, Benin, West Africa (Vocus) February 12, 2009
The world's largest non-governmental hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, docked in Cotonou, Benin, this week to begin 10 months of specialized partnership with the nation's Ministry of Health.
The hospital ship's “Operation Access” screening team left Cotonou for two provincial capitals in North Benin shortly after docking with the goal of increasing access to health care services offered by the ship throughout the nation equitably. Posters and public service announcements were sent out ahead of the team appealing for family members to bring those with particular ailments to the North Benin screening sites this week.
The Africa Mercy's medical and development crew look forward to partnering with officials under the government of President Yayi Boni at the invitation of Benin's Ministry of Health.
“In a region of many failed or failing states, Benin has a government that respects basic human rights and freedoms, including improved access to health care,” stated Mercy Ships Founder/President Don Stephens. “President Boni has stated that he eagerly awaits the arrival of our hospital ship to his nation, and I am full of hope that we can double the impact of our last visit with our new hospital ship,” Stephens said.
This is the fourth visit by a Mercy Ship to Benin in the past 12 years. Liberia was the Africa Mercy's last tour of duty. Around 40 African crewmembers are included in the international complement of 35 nations represented by the 400 crew onboard.
Although statistics on health and education suggest improvements over the past decade, nearly 30 per cent of Benin's population lives below the poverty line. Often described as one of the most stable countries in West Africa, Benin is still ranked by the United Nations as the 163rd poorest nation among 177 tracked by the Human Development Index.
According to the ship's hospital manager, Bill Martin, the screenings organized by the nation's Ministry of Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are scheduled in the northern provincial capitals of Parakou and Natitingou between February 10th and 15th with the aim of screening between 300-500 North Benin candidates for surgery onboard ship while it is docked in Cotonou as well.
Surgeries to be offered include maxillo-facial, cleft lip and palate, tumors, flesh-eating noma, release of burn contractures, cataracts, obstetric fistula, and orthopaedic issues. Additional patient screenings will be held in the Hall des Artes in Cotonou on February 19th. All surgeries are offered at no charge to patients, thanks in part to the many donors who support the ongoing work of the Mercy Ship.
During the hospital ship's ten-month assignment in port, hundreds of volunteers from around the world will carry out a wide range of other medical and community development services as well, at the invitation of the Ministry of Health.
A dental clinic in Akpakpa will provide up to 20,000 dental care procedures, and vision clinics will begin on February 23rd.
The Mercy Vision project aims to help reduce the number of blind people in Benin, and will treat those with crossed eyes, pterygium, children under 16 born with cataracts, and older people who can see some light. Of the estimated 48,000 Beninese blind, more than half are blind because of cataracts. During previous visits, Mercy Ships volunteer surgeons have provided cataract surgeries for more than 1,000 patients. This year, up to 3,000 cataract surgeries will be provided. Teams will set up community clinics in Godomey, Ghanhi, Porto-Novo, and Akpakpa, and aim to evaluate and treat 20,000 people for basic eye diseases.
Within the ship's six state-of-the-art operating theatres, other plans are to offer free services, including more than 200 orthopaedic surgeries, nearly 2,000 reconstructive and tumor surgeries, and 140 procedures to correct obstetric fistulas in women. Health education and training will also be provided. The Africa Mercy has six operating theatres, a CAT scanner, ICU, and a 78-bed hospital. Crew members volunteer their time and pay their own way to serve onboard.
Since 1978, volunteers serving with Mercy Ships have had an impact on the lives of millions of people in the world's poorest nations. Following the example of Jesus, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the poor, mobilizing people and resources worldwide.
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