COVID-19 has impacted Mercy Ships in many ways. Most of all it affected our field service in Senegal; within days our hospital ship had to leave Dakar, three months earlier than planned. At the end of March 2020, the Africa Mercy sailed from Dakar to Tenerife, where she still is moored today. The biggest challenge was departing from Africa in a quick and orderly manner, under the pressure of a growing pandemic, while still providing all the medical and personal care that our patients needed.
Being forced to leave Senegal by the COVID-19 virus was a most difficult experience. The volunteers who helped to close down our floating hospital described this time as heart-wrenching; dismissing patients shortly after or before their operation just did not feel right. The workload was enormous, and our medical, maritime and logistical volunteers laboured non-stop. The news of lockdown starting to impact Senegal and the whole world, the uncertainty of their own future, and concern for the well-being of their loved ones at home, made this time even more challenging for our crew.
The calm after the storm
Today we can look back on that time with a feeling of gratitude. The quarantine in the small harbour of Granadilla in Tenerife allowed our crew to rest and recover. Our local partners in Senegal are in close contact with those patients who still needed hospital care and physiotherapy when they were admitted to private clinics in Dakar after having received free surgery on board. Our Senegalese staff made up to 200 phone calls a week during lockdown. They instructed and informed the patients, as well as helping to deliver medicine, wound care material and food, and also organising the patients’ journeys home.
Supporting the battle against COVID-19 in West Africa
Since the pandemic began, we have focused on new ways to continue bringing hope and healing to those most in need. During the past three months we have supported local hospitals in West Africa in their fight against COVID-19, providing financial and medical aid. We rely on the Mercy Ships Africa Office in Cotonou (Benin) to coordinate the various support projects.
Medical Capacity Building goes online
We have further developed our Medical Capacity Building programme with a new curriculum of online tuition. We have been able to cover topics that are not only crucial during the current pandemic but will remain important in the future.
As a medical humanitarian development organisation, we have faced many challenges over the past 40 years. We have learned to adapt to new situations. One day, the Coronavirus will be no more, but Mercy Ships will still be here – ever committed to the African nations in need and determined to bring more hope and healing.
We will return to Senegal, as soon and as safely as possible. We will perform all the surgeries that had been planned for those patients we were forced to send home in the wake of the pandemic.
These patients count on Mercy Ships’ faithfulness – as much as we count on that of our donors…