I did voluntary work with Mercy Ships for three weeks in February. This was just prior to recognition of COVID19 as a global pandemic and consequent lockdowns.
The Africa Mercy was docked in the port of Dakar, Senegal in West Africa in September 2019 and was due to complete its mission there in May 2020. The port in Dakar is very calm and working on the ship is like working in a regular land-based hospital with no sensation of movement or disruption.
During my 3 week stay I provided anaesthesia for plastic surgery, facio-maxillary surgery and removal of thyroid tumours.
As a senior anaesthetist, I only occasionally have to do homework for a list. On Africa Mercy I spent most evenings researching topics such as anaesthesia for ameloblastoma, fibrous dysplasia and working out how to block limbs distorted by burns and contractures.
If you are interested in more information on volunteering, the Australian Anaesthetist March 2020 issue is devoted to volunteering. While I was on Africa Mercy I worked with Mark Shrime, an ENT surgeon and an author of the Lancet Commission’s Report “Global Surgery 2030: evidence and solutions for achieving health, welfare and economic development”. The Lancet Vol 386 Aug 8, 2015 – it’s a great read for anyone considering volunteering. He delivered a fascinating lecture on board analysing the impact of the Africa Mercy and the provision of surgery and anaesthesia.
I was motivated to work on the Africa Mercy to support Dr AJ Collins, one of the surgeons I work with regularly who also regularly serves on Africa Mercy. It also provided an opportunity to learn about different patterns of disease and injury to those we typically encounter in Australia. Both the different sorts of cases and the on board working environment encourage flexible thinking and an appreciation for the need to adapt systems to the situation. These abilities are important as we face new challenges with the spread of COVID19.
The Mercy ship is a surgical service provider and aims to provide relief of suffering and tangible hope for its patients. It is also involved in capacity building. Mentoring local anaesthetists and surgeons was another activity for doctors on the ship.
The lessons learned during my recent time on the Mercy ship about conserving resources and being kind to one another have been very useful in this ramp-up to Covid-19 in Australia. The entire world is now potentially a low-resource setting as we scramble for equipment and supplies during this pandemic.