Conakry, Guinea - August 22, 201 — This month marks the 3rd time that the Port of Conakry has welcomed a Mercy Ship. This time it is the Africa Mercy - the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship. For the next ten months (until May 2013), the state-of-the-art hospital ship, with six operating theaters, will provide free specialized surgeries and training for health care workers in Guinea.
In response to an invitation from the President of Guinea, His Excellency Alpha Conde, the Mercy Ships program strategy is to partner with the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene and other organizations to improve the country's health care delivery system.
Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana spoke emphatically that Mercy Ships presence in Guinea is deeply welcome. "As a country we are grateful to have the Africa Mercy here to provide essential medical care, and to also help with training our own health care professionals. On behalf of every Guinean, we thank you for bringing hope and healing to our nation." Prime Minister Fofana also noted that the ten month length of the field service is especially appreciated. "In this period of time the medical care provided by Mercy Ships will transform many lives."
Thanks to donations from partnering organizations and individuals, surgeries onboard ship are provided at no cost to the patients. These surgical procedures include tumor removal and other maxillofacial reconstruction and plastic surgery, cleft lip and palate correction, cataract removal, obstetric fistula repair, oral and dental surgery, and orthopedic help for club foot and bowed legs. Potential patients have been encouraged to attend specific screening days to receive appointments for their specific medical needs.
The Africa Mercy is a surgical hospital ship and cannot treat long-term illness such as diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell anemia, ulcers, HIV/Aids or heart conditions.
A one-day screening in the Conakry area will be held 3 September at People Palace to select patients with treatable conditions. In advance of the ship's arrival, Mercy Ships partnered with local NGOs and the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene to screen more than 805 patients in the more remote portions of the country, including Faranah, Kissidougou, N'Zerekore, Beyla, Kerouana, Kankan, Kouroussa, Dalaba in order to reach the least served.
President Conde and Minister of Health Dr. Keita Naman made a request to the founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, asking that approximately 50% of the patients come from the interior regions. In order to fulfill that request, three more screening trips are planned to the interior of Guinea.
Off-ship, the Mercy Ships Eye Team will partner with the government and various other entities to screen and schedule qualified individuals for eye surgeries throughout the 10- month stay. Cataract surgeries, performed in a simple 15-minute procedure, restore sight for hundreds of vision-impaired individuals.
An off-ship dental clinic will be established, and screening will take place weekly at the Centre de Sante de Boulbinet after 6 September.
Guinea is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 178 out of 187 on the UN Human Development Index. According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy is only 54.1 years, and the under-five mortality rate is 142 out of 1000 - far higher than the United Nations' Millenium Development Goal of 60 out of 1000.
In 2010, Guinea held its first democratic election, following 24 years under a dictator and two years under military control. Guinea's health system has remained relatively stable during this democratic transition.
The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene has 412 public health facilities and 40 hospitals for a population of almost 10 million.
However, services are severely lacking, as hospitals are in dire need of more staff, supplies, equipment, and general funds. As a result, the current provision of services is inadequate to meet the needs of a growing population.
In partnership with other international organizations, the Mercy Ship will also provide training for selected local medical personnel who will continue to offer medical care long after the ship leaves. The training/mentoring programs will include fistula surgeons.
In addition, agricultural specialists onboard ship will be involved with training of local partners, who will in turn train farmers in aspects of sustainable, organic farming techniques to increase nutrition, thus improving general health.