Well, there are two sides to what I witnessed during my first screening day experience: one of the immense human suffering in West Africa due to absence of healthcare. And the bright side – the incredible impact Mercy Ships will make for the lives of the 852 patients we screened Monday who will receive further treatment. I guess I will try to share with you a little of both, and let the photos do the talking.
We left for the screening site, a public auditorium called Le Palais du Peuple, “the people’s palace,” around 5:30 a.m. Monday. When we arrived the line was already hugging the block, some people had been waiting since 8 p.m. the night before.
One by one, potential patients went through pre-screening, history, diagnosis, pre-operative photo and scheduling stations. Remember, Mercy Ships is a specialized surgical unit focusing on correcting physical deformities such as bow legs, cleft lip, facial tumors, burn contractures, and various other birth defects.
Most astonishing was the sheer amount of people. Lines formed at every station, several times I wondered if this is how people who work at the DMV ever feel, completely outnumbered. But these lines are tangible evidence of the unbelievable lack of healthcare here. In Guinea, there are approximately 1.3 healthcare workers (described as doctors, nurses or midwives) and 3 hospital beds for every 10,000 people. Guinea has a population of 11 million people; average life expectancy here is 55.
To give you an idea, in the United States and the United Kingdom, there are 100 healthcare workers per 10,000 people and the average life expectancy is between 79-80 years old. Guinea ranks 178 of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index.
By 9:30 Monday night more than 4,500 people had walked through the gates.
It was heartwarming, it was heartbreaking. The smiles of people who had scheduled surgeries, whose lives are about to change, made it all worth while. It was a tiring, rewarding and happy day.
Future screenings will take place in more remote areas in Guinea, “upcountry,” starting in November. I am looking forward to these and hopefully will be able to travel to the interior and be a part of it.
Mercy Ships estimated outreach goals for this field service are as follows:
More than 2,000 cataract removals and 200 other eye surgeries.
Between 300-400 Maxillofacial surgeries and facial tumor removals
Around 200 cleft lip surgeries
More than 700 general surgeries (ex. hernias, goiters)
More than 100 plastic surgeries (ex. burn contractures)
More than 15,000 dental procedures
These are not including the several many orthopedic treatments for (ex. club feet, bow legs).
It was an amazing day for our 400 crew-members, one that marked the beginning of a strong start here in Conakry!
Lastly, all photos from today’s post are courtesy Mercy Ships photographers Deb Bell and Michelle Murrey. Aren’t they great? :-)
Have a great weekend, everyone.