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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Silent Tragedy in Africa

Source: Mercy Ship Australia
Posted: Tuesday, 9 June 2009, 8:03 (EST)

“Even in countries where obstetric fistula is common, many in the general public remain unaware of its cause and therefore its prevention. It really is a silent tragedy.”

Those are the words of Brisbane urogynaecologist, Dr Hannah Krause, who has returned from West Africa again as a volunteer with Mercy Ships performing corrective surgery on a small number of the millions of women still suffering silently.

“Over the past 14 years I have made several trips to Africa, and first became aware of obstetric fistula while working as a resident doctor in a rural hospital. Women came to the hospital as a result of obstructed labour during childbirth. Babies were stillborn, and the mother sustained a fistula. The big problem is that many such women are shunned by family and their community and are forced to become outcasts, hidden away with their shame.”

After seeing the problems faced by African women, Dr Krause received training at the now famous Addis Ababa fistula hospital. Since then she has returned to West Africa to perform fistula surgery and to train local surgeons in the procedure. Her most recent time was spent in Benin onboard the hospital ship Africa Mercy, operated by Mercy Ships.

“As with most of my visits to West Africa, I go for a short time – usually a few weeks – arrive, work hard, then leave. So I don’t often get to see much of the country apart from during my days off. What I do see, however, is always very confronting. The level of poverty and suffering is heart-breaking.”

“I have a lot of compassion for these women. I try to help by visiting various fistula centres, usually in Africa, to perform surgery. I usually go about twice a year for a few weeks each time during my holidays. It is hard work, but the results are so worthwhile when you see women’s lives restored. My patients are so amazing and resilient. I learn so much from them. God has given me my skills and training, enabling me to do this work. When I operate I pray that these women will be healed physically, spiritually and emotionally."

"The fistula women have very tragic life stories. Most have lost a child in labour and the fistula caused by the long labour causes them to leak urine and/or faeces continuously. Some of the women we see have developed this injury only recently and are still grieving over the loss of the baby. But most of those we see have had their fistula for years … some for more than 30 or 40 years. It’s remarkable how such women have survived life despite the extreme adversity,” she concludes.

Mercy Ships provides free corrective surgery for obstetric fistula patients onboard the Africa Mercy, currently on assignment to Benin, as well as at a dedicated fistula centre in Sierra Leone where Mercy Ships works in partnership with another organisation. Patients also have opportunities to learn about community and maternal health, while other programs seek to increase awareness of the plight of women with fistulas. When a patient is discharged there is a time of great rejoicing. Each woman receives a new dress in the fabric of her choice, signifying a new beginning, while dancing and singing reflect the change.

Discharge teaching includes instructions about sexual intercourse, family planning and the need to have caesarean delivery for subsequent pregnancies to reduce the risk of recurrence. Provision for C-section surgeries is arranged with local providers who bill Mercy Ships for former patients. In an effort to build fistula surgeon capacity in West Africa, Mercy Ships also provides training for local surgeons interested in contributing to the treatment of obstetric fistula in Africa.

Mercy Ships is an international Christian charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978. Following the example of Jesus, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the poor, mobilizing people and resources worldwide. Mercy Ships offers a range of health and community development services free of charge. Working in partnership with local people, Mercy Ships empowers communities to help themselves. The result is a way out of poverty.

The emphasis is on the needs of the world’s poorest nations in West Africa, where the hospital ship Africa Mercy provides the platform for services extending up to
ten months at a time. Mercy Ships works on land-based projects in Sierra Leone in partnership with other organisations, while teams also work in several nations of Central America and the Caribbean. There are 14 support offices around the world, including the Australian office on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

World Blood Donor Day - Africa Mercy's Walking Blood Bank

The following article is published from Medical News Today for World Blood Donor Day - June 14th! We are privileged to be among the donors on the Africa Mercy! I can agree with Ali that it is very rewarding to know the person that your blood helps!

Walking Blood Bank, UK

14 Jun 2009

World Blood Donor Day is being celebrated across the world at the weekend (14th June) but there will be nowhere like the walking blood bank on board the world's largest charity hospital ship.

Volunteers on board theAfrica Mercy, run by the international charity Mercy Ships, provide an instant and accessible source of blood for the thousands of patients that Mercy Ships help save every year.

There are no facilities to store blood onboard the ship so, for the patients who need blood during and after surgery, the volunteers on board donate it there and then.

Ali Herbert, a theatre nurse from Gloucester has been volunteering on board the Africa Mercy for six months and is called upon regularly to donate blood.

She said: "Mercy Ships has a very unique blood bank. The most recent time I was called upon to donate blood I was working in the operating theatre but giving blood is a priority.

"The process of giving blood is not so different from home. What is very different however is seeing it being checked and given to a patient in one of the ICU beds within three minutes. There is no need for a blood warmer!

"On this occasion, my blood was being used for a woman who, later that day, was having a below the knee amputation but was actually too ill to have surgery that day. It is not very common that you meet the person your blood is going to so seeing exactly where your blood is going and meeting the person it is helping is very rewarding."

At any one time, Mercy Ships has about 30 potential donors for each blood type on board the Africa Mercy, all of whose blood has been checked on arrival. The lab onboard the Africa Mercy compares the patient blood samples, which are taken and tested upon admission, with the potential donors. Volunteers can be called upon day or night to give a pint of blood with the donation often being walked straight over to the patient for transfusion while it is still warm.

Mercy Ships, is an international charity that providing free medial and humanitarian care to the world's poorest people and the Africa Mercy embarked on a 10-month outreach to Benin in February. Since then, 54 units of blood have been donated to 21 patients.

Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director of Mercy Ships UK said: "Donating blood is a selfless act and blood transfusions save millions of lives every year, including on the Africa Mercy.

"Our volunteers range from doctors and nurses, to cooks, cleaners and engineers but all have the opportunity to save a life by donating their blood - and many do. Mercy Ships only exists because of our volunteers giving their time and experience to help those most in need and many of our patients exist today because a volunteer also gave them their blood.

"We are extremely grateful and thankful to all or volunteers and truly believe they are a unique group of individuals."

Over the last 30 years, Mercy Ships has worked in over 70 countries providing services valued at more than £450million.

The international charity has treated more than 230,000 people in village medical clinics, performed more than 41,000 surgeries, 205,000 dental treatments and completed over 1,000 community development projects focusing on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.

Mercy Ships UK

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

June 2009 - Video Report

The following link is to a 6 minute video from the Mercy Ships Team.

In our latest webisode, our host, Dr. Andy Rosson, continues to explore the unique world of Mercy Ships. This month, he reports on the recent honors bestowed on Mercy Ships; a training collaboration between Mercy Ships and ALCON to train Ophthalmologists in Benin. He ends by explaining to us what it takes to recruit staff for the Africa Mercy.

This picture is of Dr. Wendy Hofman and Dr. Glenn Strauss. Wendy is an eye surgeon and is going to Gabon with Samaritan's Purse to do eye surgery for 2 years. Dr. Glenn taught her a new technique to remove cataracts here in Africa. Wendy and her husband, Eric, became friends with us while they were here for 3 months prior to going to Gabon on the Western Coast of Africa. We wish them God's blessings for their work there in Gabon!

You can access it at the following URL:

Please let me know if you have any trouble accessing the video, as we cannot access it from this link onboard. We are now able to watch these videos, but we access it locally here on the ship!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Happy 36th Anniversary, Denise!

Good Morning Friends,
I'm happy to announce to you, that next Tuesday 9 June 2009 Denise and I will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary. I'm very fortunate to be blessed with such a loving and caring wife. Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a wife of noble character and starts with a question. A wife of noble character who can find? I've been blessed to find such a wife in Denise. Would you join with me in praying for her and asking God to continue to bless her, and the call He has placed on her life. I am privileged to be her husband and look forward to the many happy years God has in store for us together as husband and wife.

We love you,
Rob and Denise