Preamble

We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 17) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Cotonou, Benin West Africa on the M/V Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, through Mercy Ships International. God has called us on a journey that has been many years in the making. For this season we call West Africa home as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.



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Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Little Bit of Mercy History.......

 
Ever wondered how Mercy Ships came about? Why a ship? Why West Africa? Why a hospital? These questions are answered and more in the video clip above. Enjoy a little Mercy Ships history!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Guinea Smiles


Okay maybe I am biased but I think the dental team are amazing!!! They work in extreme conditions, often without electricity or running water, seeking to provide excellent and professional service to some of the world's poorest and most desperate. It is hot, dirty, smelly and they listen to screams of agony and fear all day both from the patients and from women giving birth in the women's clinic above. You need to have a certain something to work in the dental clinic five days a week.

This is the story of the Africa Mercy Dental Clinic Guinea Smiles program for the Conakry Guinea field service 2012/13, thus far......Above the set up begins in the sweltering humidity and torrential downpours of the West African rainy season.

Above-before and below-ready to rock and roll!

 

The sign that dutifully follows us around from country to country. A banner of hope that signifies the end of weeks, months and even years of excruciating pain for thousands of local Guineans. 

No chance of an easy Monday morning wake up. The dental clinic starts each day with some rousing African worship with the hypnotic beat of the djembe in the background while curious locals stare in the windows. See me in the doorway! I have found out how rhythmically challenged I am since arriving in Africa, where complicated clapping, singing in all different languages and African dancing are done simultaneously.

Dental team member Comfort from Ghana raises her hands in celebration.

Have you ever had a toothache? It is extremely painful and every bite of food feels like fire ripping through your face. Imagine if you couldn't see a dentist or get help. Your toothache begins to dominate your life. It affects everything you do. You face swells and pus oozes from the infection that has now formed, from your rotting tooth. Leave it long enough and you will loose part of your jaw as I witnessed first hand a few months ago. The infection eats away at your face and enters your bloodstream and, if left untreated, can eventually kill you.

Mercy Ships relives the pain of thousands in each country we visit and without a doubt saves lives. It may not be as dramatic as the removal of a giant tumour or the correction of bow legs but it is life changing nonetheless. Each Monday and Thursday is screening day. Men, women and children line up for hours in the searing sun of dry season or the drenching rain of the wet season hoping, waiting for a miracle. Praying that today will be their day. Not everyone can be seen and many will return over and over until they get their precious ticket.

Above the men's line. Below the women and children's line.

 

The blue scrubs of Sieh, the Dental Team Leader stand out amongst the colourful crowd as he screens for potential patients.

Sieh has been screening for many years now and although he does not have any formal training he is an expert at triage.

A Muslim woman's pain is etched in her eyes.

After patients are selected they come through reception to have their history taken. A large percentage of West Africans are illiterate so when it comes to signing consent forms, many times a thumbprint has to suffice.

The challenges the dentists face daily.

A  mother watches over her child being treated by one of the dentists. Many times children left without being seen as the whole situation is so overwhelming for them that they cannot be contained and it would be dangerous to work on them. It is very disheartening after they have lined up for so long and are within minutes of having their pain relieved. It is at this point that some disturbing cultural traits are also witnessed. Often the accompanying caregiver will hit or slap the child and scream at them furthering their distress.

Patients ready to be seen as the team works hard to get through the day's patients which can total up to a hundred.

No time is wasted! While the patients are waiting to be seen they are educated in oral hygiene and the Jesus film is also played. Above day worker Henry talks about the importance of regular tooth brushing.

Every Monday I head out with the dental team and take up the role of Assistant Dental Sterilizer. It is imperative that every single instrument is scrubbed and sterilized to prevent cross contamination and infection from diseases such as Hepatitis A and B and HIV/Aids, diseases which are prevalent in developing nations. It is hard, back breaking work but satisfying all the same.

Sterilizing is a repetitive job so we have plenty of time for a bit of fun. The sterilizing room is where its is at for music, dancing and laughter. Above day worker Grace, Head Sterilizer Roses and I, smile for the camera.

Grace left us recently as she is pregnant. Her baby is due any day now. She was replaced by Pierre-above.

I bet you are thinking that things look pretty "rustic" but wait there's more!!! On many occasions during field services the dental team set out on "extreme dentistry" missions. The dental chairs are totally portable and they are packed up, along with basic equipment, to destinations across the city we are berthed in, and beyond. The team practise "cold sterilization" and everything is done on the fly. They also send the dental hygienists out to give oral hygiene lessons. Above a dental hygienest gives instruction at a local deaf school with the help of day worker Jonta and a teacher, signing.

The kids were very excited to receive their hygiene packs with toothbrushes and toothpaste inside. The dental team also give out donated knitted teddies to children who visit the clinic.

The children are charmed by Mr.Monkey and his cheesy grin.

On a recent visit to the local prison in Conakry where the team spent several days treating hundreds of male and female inmates in the prison's chapel. Many of the prisoners have not been to trial yet and are imprisoned before proven guilty, housed in primitive conditions without access to medical care. Above the team get to work in the chapel.

The inmates wait their turn

A dental day worker comforts a prisoner in his distress and pain.

 A female inmate has an extraction that has probably been bothering her for months, even years.


Recently a Mercy Team accompanied some of the dental team on a twenty five hour journey to the remote outer reaches of Southeast Guinea to visit a Kissi tribal village. The Kissi are a West African people group who live in the forested border region between Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In one week they were able to treat over 400 people who had most likely never seen a dentist in their lives. Now that's extreme dentistry!! Above the land rovers took a real beating on the treacherous two day trip. Below Chief Dental Officer, Mark treats a young girl.



 

The wonderful Africa Mercy Dental Team!! (I am on the far right standing up). So far this field service the team has produced some amazing stats:

Basic Oral Health Education - Students: 1,178
Basic Oral Health Education - Patients at clinic: 6,714
Mentor-Dental Assisting/Sterilizing/Teaching Oral Hygiene: 9
Mentor African Dental Students: 2Clinical Dental Hygiene Services: 649 procedures over 649 patients
Provide Dentures/ Replacements: 547
Dental Care (tooth decay and infections): 31, 314 procedures through 8,254 patient encounters

God is good!
 
  


 
 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Baby Love


We get some sweet babies and young children on the ship, some patients and some come with caregivers. Each of them have their own little personalities and quirks. It is very easy to become attached to them and to give them lots of cuddles! Some of them stick around for quite awhile due to their surgery/ies or they accompany their mama's or siblings. For these little ones we are often able to celebrate milestones. I was quite excited to see Mamadou (my English student Aisha's little brother) now walking on his own, after months of furniture walking, on their visit a few weeks ago.

A little baby or toddler can lift the spirits of the nurses who are worn down by the sights, sounds and smells that assault them every day. A gummy smile from a baby can make your day and the mamas are more than happy to hand their babies your way!  It is a sign that life still goes on despite the tragedy and suffering that often accompanies the wards on the Africa Mercy. Above a gorgeous little one at the Hope Centre sporting a wreathe made during a Mercy Ministries visit.

Mamadou who will willingly go to anyone with his lovely sweet temperament.

Ortho patient George with one of his rare smiles. The wards are a scary place for kids and adults alike in West Africa where health care is very basic and certainly not located on a big white ship resting on the ocean.

Ortho patient Baindu in the rehab tent. Visible methods to explain our procedures or the equipment used are utilised as much as possible due to the inevitable language barrier. The old saying "a picture paints a 1000 words" is apt. Biandu is playing with a doll that is demonstrating the ponsetti method that helps to correct clubfeet.

Little Alseny with his cleft lip. Alseny came in with his healthy and chubby twin sister but Alsney was dangerously underweight and malnourished. Now he has had his cleft lip repaired and is nice and fat just like his sister, in fact even fatter!

Alseny gripping his mother's finger.

His tiny feet in the hands of his big sister.

Another sweet baby in the arms of nurse Melinda on deck seven.

Meet the famous "Doublemint" twins. Nicknamed after the famous Wrigley's chewing gum adds that featured a set of twins.They turned up for screening in matching green and white striped sweatshirts. Alseny and Alassane both had surgery to correct bowed legs.

How could you resit this cheeky little monkey?