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14 December 2011

Hospital ship completes voluntary mission

Hospital ship completes voluntary mission

British volunteers were among the 1,000-strong crew that treated thousands of patients in Sierra Leone on board the world's largest charity hospital ship.

The Africa Mercy, run by the international Christian charity Mercy Ships, has just completed a ten-month field trip, 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 carried out more than 28,700 dental procedures, providing essential dental care in a country that has only one dentist for every one million people.

Leo Cheng, a consultant oral and facial reconstructive surgeon who has volunteered annually with Mercy Ships for the last eight years 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."

One such life on this trip was Abdul Vandi, called 'the devil child' in his village because of his deformed, curling feet. While he was often rejected and despised for his clubfoot condition, Abdul's father held firm to his faith, believing that God would help them find a cure. One day, a radio jingle announced the arrival of Mercy Ships to assess people for surgery. Abdul and his father stood in line for three days to be seen. It was worth every second when Abdul was accepted for treatment: "The joy I felt was so overwhelming that I lost my appetite to eat until I arrived at Mercy Ships." Both Abdul and his father had successful treatment. Physiotherapist Nick was overjoyed with Abdul's progress: "His future will be worlds apart from what it would have been before treatment - he would have been begging on the streets. Now, he will work, contributing to society, which gives him a bright future."

The Africa Mercy is staffed by more than 1,000 volunteers from 40 nations annually, with about 400 onboard at any one time. As Sierra Leone is one of the world's least developed countries, and healthcare is largely unavailable for the poor, the impact the ship had on this trip was enormous.

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."