British volunteers among the crew who helped thousands

British surgeons, nurses and dentists were among the 1000 volunteers who treated thousands of patients in Sierra Leone during the last 10 months on board the world’s largest charity hospital ship.

The Africa Mercy, which is run by the international Christian charity Mercy Ships, has just completed a 10 month field service in the West African country, providing free medical care and humanitarian aid to thousands of the country’s poorest people.

Since February, the volunteer medical teams have performed more than 2,700 free surgeries such as tumour removal, cleft lip and palate correction, cataract removal, orthopaedics and skin grafts for burns victims.  Volunteer dental teams have also carried out more than 28,700 dental procedures, providing essential dental care in a country that has only one dentist for every 1million people.

Leo Cheng, a Consultant Oral and Facial Reconstructive Surgeon in London and Cambridge who has volunteered annually with Mercy Ships for the last eight years including Sierra Leone earlier this year, said, “With Mercy Ships, we provide western quality treatment for patients in the poorest countries of the world - on their door step.  It’s amazing.

“When patients have extensive facial and neck tumours removed, they show a mixture of emotions.  You watch patients feeling and checking and rechecking their faces again and again.  They want to make sure that the big lump that has been with them for such a long time has truly gone. It’s very moving to watch and very rewarding to witness their lives transformed.”

Sierra Leone is one of the world’s least developed countries and healthcare in Sierra Leone is largely unavailable for the poor with the majority of the population living on less than £1.20 per day.

Among the visitors to the ship this year was HRH The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence who witnessed first-hand the work of Mercy Ships during their trip to Sierra Leone in October. 

Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director of Mercy Ships UK, said, “This was Mercy Ships’ seventh visit to Sierra Leone and the team this year has worked extensively with the Ministry of Health and local hospitals to focus on capacity building and the training of local doctors, anaesthetists, nurses and other health professionals.

“The country is still recovering from its 11 year civil war and its people are still in need of hope and healing - which I am proud to say we have been able to provide.

“I want to say a huge thank you to all the British volunteers who gave up their time and expertise to help on the Africa Mercy this year – from the surgeons and nurses, to the engineers and cooks.  Every one of them has played a vital role in helping Mercy Ships fulfil its mission to help the poorest of the poor and we are very proud of them.

“Many of them will return to again in 2012, first in Togo, then in Guinea and we look forward to welcoming them again, along with any new British volunteers.”

The Africa Mercy is staffed by more than 1000 volunteers from 40 nations annually, with about 400 onboard at any one time. 

The was converted from a Danish rail ferry to a state-of-the-art hospital ship, with six operating theatres, X-ray facilities and CT scanner, a pharmacy and a laboratory.  There is capacity for 78 in-patients with four wards and a small intensive care unit. 

Over the last 30 years, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at £530million and impacting about 2.9million people.

The international charity has treated more than 520,000 patients in village medical and dental clinics, performed more than 56,000 surgeries and completed over 1,000 community development projects focusing on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.

For more information on Mercy Ships please visit www.mercyships.org.uk or call 01438 727800.