Mercy Ships serves its partner nations using a doubled-edged approach to bringing hope and healing – providing free and safe surgeries to those in need onboard hospital ships, and empowering local healthcare providers with effective training and mentorship leading to better care for the people they serve. Mercy Ships drives the latter through our Education, Training, and Advocacy (ETA) program, which involves identifying and understanding the gaps that exist in the health landscape of the country before contributing to the bridging of such gaps using training and advocacy.

As part of the 2023-24 field service in Sierra Leone, the ETA team organised an ophthalmology training for ophthalmic care providers in the country. This training was organised in response to a specific request by the Sierra Leonean health authorities and took place in addition to ongoing surgical intervention – more than 770 eye surgeries were performed on board the Global Mercy™ in Sierra Leone.

Helping Hands

Yatta Kamara, a nurse who participated in the training, lost her mother as a kid and was raised by her grandmother. She dreamed of and became a nurse to take care of people, especially her grandmother. Her journey was long and difficult, but she pushed through. With a couple of years under her belt as a practicing nurse, she described her experience at the training as eye-opening and enriching. “Being here will help me achieve my dreams because I have learned a lot,” she shared.

Another participant, Dr. John Mattia, is an experienced ophthalmic surgeon from Sierra Leone. He started his practice in 2008 and has carried out over 12,000 ophthalmic operations. He finds fulfilment restoring the sight of patients and first came on board a Mercy Ship in 2011 for a two-week training, which led to him changing his technique and experiencing more efficient results.

On the importance of the current training, Dr. Mattia explained, “It’s a big contribution to eye care in my country. Human resource development in eye care is very critical for us because we only have a few eye doctors. So, we need more training.” He was excited about the opportunity to improve his skills and reconnect with one of his original trainers, Dr. Abram Wodome from Togo, who returned to help facilitate the 5-week training.

“A training like this is very beneficial, not only for me, but for my people. We are going to extend this training to other eye surgeons; after here, we can go to the local hospitals and start training other people,” he shared.

Training Onboard

The training provided an opportunity for the participants to experience the purpose-built hospital ship, explore the state-of-the-art equipment onboard, and observe how the different teams in the hospital department work together while sharpening their surgical and nursing skills.

One of the training facilitators, Dr. Ralph Crew, a volunteer ophthalmologist from the USA, explained that the training provided an opportunity for the participants to learn efficient techniques. He was convinced that the techniques have empowered them to perform eye surgeries with elevated levels of skill and success.

Reflecting on the importance of the training, Dr. Crew said, “They’ll be able to go back to their practice to perform better surgeries and take better care of patients.” He also noted that the training will boost their confidence and consequently empower them to make a better living.

ETA participants are usually encouraged to pass down the skills they learned to others. This way, the circle of medical proficiency and access to safe and affordable healthcare is enlarged. The huge surgical care gap exists largely because of limited resources and in some cases non-existent expertise; as more people are trained, the gap begins to close.

“I became a nurse to help serve my community,” shared Abie Alice Davies, another nurse participant at the training. Though not the first or only nurse in her family, her passion for helping people stands out. She was excited to attend the training, and confident that her experience on the ship would help her serve people better and train others. “It’s a good experience for me. I am very happy to be here because I have learned a lot and I wish to take it back to my hospital. I’ll go back and teach others.”

“Everyone here is welcoming, wonderful, and friendly. The facilitators are accommodating and happy to teach what they know,” Abies described her experience. Through this training, passionate healthcare providers like Nurses Yatta and Davies, and Dr. Mattia, are better equipped to provide the best care possible to the people of Sierra Leone, train other professionals, and make a better living for themselves.

As an organisation, Mercy Ships is committed to bringing hope and healing, while strengthening the proficiency of local healthcare workers and increasing access to safe and affordable medical care in the long term. Learn more about how your skills can play a part in this life-changing work today.