Before our hospital ship had to leave the port of Dakar abruptly, the mission in Senegal proved to be very successful: a large number of patients were relieved of their suffering, and many local health professionals attended our training courses or took part in our mentoring programme. But can success be defined at all? And measured in numbers?
What is success in connection with a medical-humanitarian mission? Our statistics and reports provide information about project activities, patient numbers, costs, incoming donations, etc. If the figures correspond to our mission planning and budgets, we can speak of success.
However, if we allowed our patients and their relatives to speak, they would say that they perceive success in the fact that a baby born with a cleft lip and palate can finally suckle and smile properly – or that the little boy with deformed legs can play football with friends for the first time in his life.
Our teams of surgeons see success in a healing process without complications or in a neat scar. Our physiotherapists have the full mobility of the patient in mind. The cooks consider it a success that patients and crew are satisfied with the food they provide.
The criterion of sustainability is being used with increasing frequency when it comes to evaluating success “professionally”. At Mercy Ships, we have been trying to document the sustainability of our work for years. But this is proving to be extremely difficult. We don’t know whether the blind patient we operated on in Togo 20 years ago is now a wealthy company founder – or a poor beggar. Through our international volunteers and local crew members in Africa, we learn time and again that they have remained in contact with patients. These are often great stories. But they have no statistical relevance.
Sustainability is best seen in our “Medical Capacity Building Programmes “. Medical Capacity Building comprises our infrastructure, training and mentoring programmes. We receive a lot of feedback there, and we often keep in contact with graduates for years. For example, we now know that in Guinea a large number of children with cleft lip and palate can be operated on free of charge. This is directly due to the work of three doctors in a clinic in Conakry. These three participated in a Mercy Ships surgical mentoring programme a few years ago (i.e. they were specifically trained in the application of certain new surgical procedures in our operating rooms). Today, with international financial support, they are able to offer free maxillofacial surgeries.
In order to improve the documentation of the sustainability of our work in Africa, we have started a long-term scientific cooperation with Harvard Medical School. We are already looking forward to learning about their findings and incorporating them into our work.
For the time being, you can get your own impression of the success of our work: