In drizzling rain several hundred people joined the queue, and by daybreak they started to come in their thousands.
There was no grand final, and no rock concert. The Mercy Ship had arrived in the West African nation of Guinea, and more than 4,300 people came from near and far for the first mass screening of people hoping for an appointment card leading to life changing surgery.
The Africa Mercy, the world's largest private hospital ship, operated by Mercy Ships, will be the platform during the next ten months for a range of free health and development programs provided by more than 400 volunteer crew members from around the world. The ship has six operating theatres, a
78-bed hospital and state-of-the art equipment.
The screening day went well as a result of great teamwork from the crew and support from the government of Guinea and local authorities. About half of those who came for screening had to be turned away because of medical conditions that could not be provided on the Africa Mercy. More than 200 patients were selected from the screening immediately for surgeries which began onboard on the same day. Another thousand were scheduled for further evaluation or treatment.
Those selected for treatment represented specialties provided by volunteer medical teams, including Orthopaedic, Maxillofacial, Plastic and General Surgery, Obstetric Fistula, Eye and Dental.
At a later separate dental screening, 400 people queued in the rain. A number of similar dental screenings and clinics will take place twice a week until May next year. Dental services will be provided off the ship in Conakry where the ship is docked. The dental team anticipates caring for as many as 11,500 patients between now and when the Africa Mercy leaves Guinea. Mercy Ships volunteers will also carry out some renovations to the building being used for clinics, including painting, installation of air conditioning units, improving water flow, renovating wash rooms and upgrading electrical wiring.
Guinea is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 178 out of 187 on the UN Human Development Index. According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy is only 54.1 years, and the under-five mortality rate is 142 out of 1000, far higher than the United Nations Millenium Development Goal of 60 out of 1000. The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene has 412 public health facilities and 40 hospitals for a population of almost 10 million. However, services are severely lacking, as hospitals are in dire need of more staff, supplies, equipment, and general funds. As a result, the current provision of services is inadequate to meet the needs of a growing population.
Mercy Ships is a global charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978 providing free health care and community development services to the forgotten poor. Following the example of Jesus, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the poor. 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 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. Mercy Ships Australia, one of 15 international support offices is based on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.