Iain Colquhoun is a marine engineer and surveyor. After a lifetime in his career he joined Mercy Ships 9 years ago as an engineer. He is responsible for keeping his ship, “Africa Mercy”, repaired and operational. Crew sign up for the 10 month stint. After this period the ship is serviced and refitted in local ports, e.g. in West Senegal. The surgeons take a 2 month leave from their hospital careers to join the ship and return to carry on with their careers and keep up with new medical advances. Some give up their holiday to join the ship.
None of the crew nor the surgeons are paid (except the captain who is paid £10 a year in vouchers to be spent at the ship’s shop). They have to find their own expenses to get to the ship in Africa and living expenses (which amount to 1000’s of pounds). Each finds his own sponsors to fund the operation.
They only perform surgery and do not fight disease. (Disease on board could incapacitate the crew and render their efforts ineffective.) Their way of working is to dock at a port, take patients aboard and perform the necessary surgery and afterwards take control of recuperation on land. The 5 operating theatres on board have better facilities than most hospitals in the UK and are well-prepared for the tasks they perform.
An advance party is sent to the area to advertise that they are coming. Prospective patients are vetted and assessed for surgery so that when they arrive at the hospital ship their surgery has already been planned.
Mercy Ships train local staff so that the local area is ready when their ship visits. Since 1978 they have trained over 40,800 health professionals and taught more than 6000 health workers how to train others. They have visited 592 ports and performed 95,000 life-saving operations since then. They have 1400 volunteer surgeons on their books.
5 billion people in the World do not have access to safe and affordable surgery and their medical conditions are allowed to deteriorate. We were shown photographs of people with horrendous difficulties. The before and after photographs were hardly credible.
Some of the operations performed are:
Orthopaedic – correcting a child’s twisted legs
Maxillo-facial and dental – correcting deformities of the face and mouth (eg cleft palate)
Eye conditions – such as cataracts
Cephalocele – dealing with growths and tumours on the head
Many adults and children are returned to their families whole again when they may have been condemned to life as an invalid. The people who take part in this venture have a wonderful sympathy to humanity and are really committed to doing something about helping them.