Senegal’s Port of Dakar welcomed its second hospital ship from Texas-based Mercy Ships last month when the Africa Mercy, the largest charity-run hospital ship in the world, came to shore.
The floating hospital – which delivers free, safe surgical care – is staffed by more than 400 volunteers, who give their expertise for free to help treat dental and eye problems, cleft lips and palates, tumors, club feet, childbirth injuries, burns, and a variety of other conditions.
During the Africa Mercy’s ten-month stay at the Port of Dakar, Mercy Ships plans to provide more than 1,200 life-changing surgeries onboard, treat more than 4,000 at a land-based dental clinic, and provide healthcare training to local medical professionals. All of this will be provided at no cost to the recipients and will help to improve the healthcare provision in Senegal long after the ship leaves port.
Although Senegal has a solid healthcare system in place, Mercy Ships says there is still a need for capacity building and surgeries especially in the rural areas where approximately half of Senegal’s population (around 8.8 million people) lives and access to healthcare is limited.
According to Mercy Ships, the President of Senegal and the Minister of Health and Social Action have requested that the organization focus on the needs of patients both in the capital and interior regions of Senegal.
Mercy Ships partners with nations for around five years at a time. So, in any one year, the organization is actually working with up to five nations. At the moment, they are working with Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Mercy Ships is always invited by their host nation’s government and they work closely with the Ministry of Health and other local government departments of their host nation to ensure that they are providing the most effective aid possible.
Mercy Ships provides assistance in four ways:
- They deliver free surgical and dental services to the poor in the countries that they serve.
- They strengthen their host nation’s surgical healthcare system through training, infrastructure, and mentoring.
- They conduct research and evaluation to improve the impact of their activities and to share knowledge with the wider healthcare community.
- They advocate for safe, timely, and affordable surgery for the underserved in the nations of Africa.
Globally, five billion people live without access to safe, affordable surgery when they need it. When asked, “How can you possibly change the situation? There are too many people,” the organization says the answer is simple. As Dr. Gary Parker, Mercy Ships’ longest-serving volunteer, said, “We can change it one life at a time.”