Why are some areas and populations so much healthier than others? No matter what way you look at it the same answers continue to arise: lack of resources, lack of access to resources, poverty, education, among others. Now the reasonable follow-up question would be: what can we do to fix that and equal the playing field? More than 30 years ago, one man named Don Stephens, had an idea: Mercy Ships. Before I tell you more, keep in mind that Mercy Ships take a “downstream” approach; although it solves a few health issues and has improved the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people, it does not solve the overlying causes of these issues.
One ship in particular, called Africa Mercy, travels from port city to port city and docks at each stop for a few months at a time. The main stops on this ship are countries such as Togo, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and a few others. When they arrive, thousands of people wait in line for the opportunity to see a doctor. The main medical surgeries done onboard include, but are not limited to: cataracts surgery, cleft palates and benign facial tumors that can lead to death if they are not removed. After reading over the website (www.mercyships.org) I had a lot of critical questions that weren’t answered in the “FAQ” category. What do you do if your staff and medical equipment are not prepared for a certain medical issue? Can you see all of the thousands of people who line up outside the ship when you arrive, or do you often have to turn people away? Where do the patients stay when waiting for their appointments? How do the patients and their families hear about your ship? Do you need government approval or permission in order to dock your ship and perform these surgeries? How do you follow-up on a surgery that requires constant care that can’t be provided in their home village?
It’s only in my nature to think critically when I see an organization like this go into different countries and try and “fix” their problems and leave when their work is done. However, after watching the 60 Minutes clip, I was brought to tears and completely won over by the seemingly humble volunteer staff, who actually pay to donate their time and skills. Click here to watch the clip, I HIGHLY recommend it: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50141230n
Although Africa Mercy and the other Mercy Ships don’t solve all of the world’s health problems, I can’t help but be grateful for the people out there who do actually care about the greater good of society. The health of the world is a complex issue that we, as professionals, have only begun to chip away at. The doctors and other staff onboard these ships are making great strides to better health care for certain groups of people. Now how can we tackle this issue on a broader level?