There are many factors that contribute to a patient's well being. If someone receives care onboard the Africa Mercy, they still may end up receiving an infection or worse, dying from other preventable causes if not taught healthy habits. Education, in addition to surgery is critical for long term well being.
Medical crew member Becca Taylor heads up the patient education program. She has developed a curriculum to train the day workers on how to teach the materials. Day workers (pictured in green scrubs) are locals who are paid to help support the full time crew of the Africa Mercy. They work in every department and help make all operations possible. Knowing the local culture and dialect, Day Workers have an immense advantage in making teaching more relevant to patients. Its also empowering to let the nation take care of itself rather than having outsiders impose their own ideas and expectations. Every country is different so teaching materials and methods have to be adapted. What Becca had learned previously in the Sierra Leone field service had been reworked for Togo.
Various topics that are covered in health education involve hand sanitation, nutrition, nutritional deficiencies, immunizations, childbirth planning, dehydration, diarrhea prevention, stress management, malaria prevention and general healthy habits. The dental and eye teams came also to teach about teeth and eye care.
While some patients receive these lessons in the wards on the ship, many are taught at the HOPE (Hospital Out-Patient Extension) Center. This is an off-ship facility and that can house 40 patients and their caregivers at a time. When coming from far away, patients cannot afford to travel back and forth during treatments so they stay at the center. This frees up bed space in the wards aboard the Africa Mercy so that patients with more serious cases can be tended to. Land Rover shuttles provide transportation to and back from the ship for post operative check ups.
When Mercy Ships first served in Togo in 2010, it was given space for the HOPE Center by the Togolese Government. In return Mercy Ships renovated a wing of that facility with donated funds. Upon leaving the country, Mercy Ships returned the facility back to the Togolese Government to establish the Maternal Health Centre.
Small remedies can make a big difference in long term sustainability. In the end, its up to the patient to follow through and put the teaching into practice. Sometimes the best help you can provide is to plant the seeds of knowledge and hope.
© 2012 Mercy Ships-Photos by Ryan Chen