Bringing a large hospital ship to Togo boosts the country’s healthcare capacity considerably. Among a population of 6m , there are two hospitals, mainly accessed by those with money. If you’re poor, you get very little. With 6 operating theatres the crew can get through 3,500 eye surgeries, 3,000 face and tumour operations ,10,000 dental operations and hundreds of VVF ( Fistula ) ops, over the last 6 months. Not to mention club foot , physiotherapyand sustainable training for local dentists,health workers,agricultural/ nutritionists/eye medics and advice to the Togonese health ministry.
Mercyships runs a complex and wide ranging team, extending to 450 volunteer medical , engineering , support, administrative staff from around the world ( US,UK, Dutch esp) and 200 local ship volunteers, who are learning about medical , engineering and housekeeping tasks. The ship is effectively a floating town with the infrastructure to support it.
With such an array of requirements mercyships are on constant look out for skilled medics- especially surgeons and anaesthetists, without whom its a show stopper. Bill Martin ( Head of Hospital) took us around the various operations and patient ward decks. It was quite clear that this is a highly efficient operation, with dozens of people focused on specific tasks- ensuring patient comfort and a high volume of operations. There’s a grat deal of high tech equipment CT scanners, Cytology scanners- that can send results for analysis in Bristol, Sheffield or Mitchigan over night. Sadly many of the patients tumours have turned cancerous and the cytology scan flags this up and these cannot be helped in the medium term.
The ship sails for South Africa in August and the wind down has begun – many of the Dr’s and Nurses I spoke to expressed enormous regret at leaving patients and the volume of need in Togo, but realistically the convalescent time required for many of the proceedures precludes further surgery . It’s also quite clear that once a patient has been operated on and recovered, there is no further support from them in the country, should a relapse occur. Everyone is painfully aware of this, but recognise that at least most have been cured, or been given more than a fighting chance to live a productive life.