Public Health: Africa Mercy Hospital Ship Awaited in Cameroon

Below is an introductory statement of the Minister of Communication in a press conference on Friday April 28 during which he announced the stakes of imminent visit

“Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you to this meeting, during which we shall be discussing on a major social issue for our country.

Meanwhile, before going into the crux of the matter, allow me first of all to acknowledge the presence by my side of Their Excellencies, the Minister of Social Affairs, the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, and the Minister of Public Health who accepted to join me and be part of this exchange exercise with the press.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, you are all Welcomed to the Ministry of Communication.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The subject that has brought us together today concerns the berthing and stay of The Africa Mercy Hospital Ship at the Douala Autonomous Port of Douala as of August 2017.

As a matter of fact, at the invitation of the Head of State, His Excellency Paul BIYA, the International Humanitarian Non-Governmental Organization Mercy Ships, has agreed to stay in Cameroon from August 2017 to June 2018, for a 10-month care mission.

This mission is placed under the Distinguished Patronage of the First Lady of Cameroon, Mrs Chantal BIYA, and UNECSO Goodwill Ambassador.

The Africa Mercy Hospital Ship, which will be deployed in Cameroon during the period I have just mentioned, provides a framework of care commensurate to that of the leading Western hospitals. The technical facilities includes, among others, five operating theatres, a recovery room, an intensive care unit, 82 hospital beds and a satellite remote diagnosis system.

The care offered by the Mercy Ships mission in Cameroon is rich in various medico-surgical specialties, conducted by teams from a vast worldwide network including the best practitioners from university teaching hospitals.

Its main objective is to reduce the burden of sickness, particularly among the poorest and most vulnerable populations through the following medical services:

The provision of a high-level technical facility for Cameroon’s patients and practitioners to care for patients.

The provision of quality care to patients and to the poor and vulnerable populations with pathologies requiring specialized care.

The organization of continuous capacity building sessions for medical, paramedical and support staff.

The training of local medical and surgical teams, likely to develop excellence centres in certain regions of Cameroon in the specialties offered by Mercy Ships in order to guarantee the sustainability and ownership of the project by the local care teams.

The activities onboard of the Africa Mercy Hospital Ship are mainly oriented towards surgery, and more specifically on the surgical services as follows:

General and orthopedic surgery: deformities related to neglected trauma, clubfoot corrections and congenital deformities;

Maxillo-facial surgery: removal of non-cancerous deforming tumors, correcting of cleft clip and palates, and the removal of goiters;

Reconstructive plastic surgery: congenital abnormalities, burn contractures, chronic ulcers and huge tumors;

Gynecological surgery: obstetric fistulas and huge fibroids;

Ophthalmological surgery and dental care.

As can be seen, the emphasis is mostly laid on pathologies which are often debilitating and disabling, for which the local technical facilities and expertise have limited solutions to offer.

The burden of these pathologies is compounded by the fact that they occur predominantly in poor and vulnerable environments, which by so doing exacerbate the burden of discrimination and social exclusion for patients and their families.

Founded in 1978, the primary mission of Mercy Ships is to improve access to medical care for people living in abject poverty through a fleet of Hospital Ship services.

Before coming to Cameroon, other African countries had already benefited from this initiative, notably Benin in 2016-2017, Madagascar 2015-2016, and the Republic of Congo in 2013-2014.

The mission of Mercy Ships in Cameroon will be done in accordance with the following schedule:

– First, the identification and selection of patients, which began on 17 April 2017 in public health facilities, given that the capacity to absorb demand for therapeutic care during this mission has been capped at 6000 patients. This phase will be completed within three weeks to allow for the planning and programming of surgical procedures. These will start in August 2017. Teams tasked with selecting patients eligible for the types of surgeries offered by Mercy Ships are already deployed in all the Health Districts of Cameroon.

– The second phase of the operation will consist in taking care of the patients. In this regard, the Head of State has instructed for the total gratuity of the care provided, in terms of the medical and surgical care, transportation of each patient and his or her accompanying person if need be (for children and persons with reduced independence) from his or her place of residence to the Douala Autonomous Port (where the ship shall be docked), including food and accommodation.

The programming of the care of the patients who have been finally retained in the programme will be spread out over a 10-month period and all major surgical operations will take place onboard of the hospital ship.

The Minister of Public Health has requested some Hospitals in Douala to support this mission. These include: the Douala Gyneco-Obstetric and Pediatric Hospital, the Laquintinie Hospital and the Nylon District Hospital.

It should be made known that patients will benefit from the assistance of the Ministry of Public Health and of various administrations at all stages of the care process.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family are involved in organizing this operation as far as Cameroon part is concerned. In this vein, these two ministries have already mobilized their vast associative network for the identification and selection of patients.

The same ministries, notably, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, will throughout the care process, take care of all related psycho-social and life support aspects.

In this regard, many officials of these two ministries have already benefited from specific training and capacity building by experts from Mercy Ships and the Ministry of Public Health.

The Ministry of Transport is responsible for transporting each patient to and fro. Many other government institutions are responsible for the logistical, security and technical aspects related to the berthing of the ship and the international arrivals of the teams and their movements.

The entire process is placed under the Distinguished Coordination of the Prime Minister Head of Government.

Distinguished Journalists,

As you must have certainly noticed, this highly humanitarian and social dimension initiative falls in line with the continuation of the social and humanitarian works of Mrs Chantal BIYA, First Lady of Cameroon and her illustrious husband, His Excellency Paul BIYA.

In his inaugural address to the National Assembly on November 3, 2011, the Head of State said and I quote: « Facilitating access to health care and quality medicines is another way to improve the living conditions of our population, in particular the most disadvantaged” end of quote.

The action that the Mercy Ships mission is on the verge of carrying out over a period of close to a year in Cameroon is therefore in line with the vision expressed by His Excellency the President of the Republic and which is constant in the social and medical policies that the Government has been instructed to implement and to ensure the follow-up and evaluation.

As far as the First Lady is concerned, her commitment to the poor and the disadvantaged segments of society remains one of her most important concerns.

The setting up of socio-educational bodies as well as setting up of health facilities, including in the most remote areas of the national territory, which today, has earned her an international reputation among both intergovernmental bodies and the international civil society.

Distinguished Journalists,

The importance of this operation can never be overemphasized. Its success is an imperative for each one of us, in our capacity as institutional or social actors.

In the light of the foregoing, I am hereby making a vibrant appeal, on behalf of the Government, to all the kinetic forces of Cameroon, to elites, opinion leaders, traditional and religious authorities, civil society organizations, to sensitize and mobilize all the populations concerned in order to take advantage of the exceptional opportunity offered by the presence in Cameroon of this gigantic hospital ship which is equipped with state-of-the art medical technology and health expertise.

Thank you for your kind attention.”

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