His Excellency Paul Lehmann, the Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria and Ambassador to Benin, has visited the world’s largest independent hospital ship, Africa Mercy, during a ceremony held in Cotonou, Benin, on November 3.
Operated by international medical charity Mercy Ships, the vessel is also home to the largest contingent of Australians in West Africa.
“High Commissioner Lehmann was not expecting what he saw, from the very first glimpse of the Africa Mercy, to the reception when he came on board, to the conversations with crew and all the work he saw going on during his tour,” said Australian volunteer Andrew Rothwell, who serves as the Africa Mercy’s operations director.
“He was very touched and overwhelmed with the experience. So much so that he gave blood while he was on board.”
“High Commissioner Lehmann has a rare blood type, but a type we urgently needed after a week of big surgeries. I think he is the first Ambassador to have ever done this!”
High Commissioner Lehmann and Second Secretary Susan Cash were invited to tour the ship’s hospital wards and facilities and also had the opportunity to see a tenotomy procedure in the on-land rehab clinic.
The Australian High Commission Abuja, Nigeria, through its Direct Aid Program, is supporting Mercy Ships Australia to provide life-changing surgeries for children with club feet. The program also has a strong development focus which complements Australia's broader aid program to contribute to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.
Children who receive corrective club foot/feet manipulation and surgery are generally under the age of three. Due to their disability, most children are unable to partake in normal community life or engage in play with their peer group. They can experience isolation from their community and at times from their family.
This project includes not only the medical processes of club foot/feet correction and capacity building of local medical staff, but aims to provide sustainable outcomes and support children and their caregivers to overcome isolation and give them a stronger chance for a brighter future.
Although non-fatal, the condition causes severe lifelong disability. Many families in Benin lack the necessary resources and income to meet their family’s daily needs let alone pay for the long-term cost of treating a child with clubfoot/feet.
In Benin, 53.1% of the population live below the poverty line, with only six physicians per 100,000 persons and 4.6% of the GDP expenditure going to health, therefore treating club foot/feet is very difficult.
“It was great to see so many Australians committed to providing free health care to the people of Benin,” High Commissioner Lehmann said.
During its ten-month field service in Benin, Mercy Ships plans to provide more than 1,700 surgeries to adult and paediatric patients on board, to treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic, and to provide health care training to Beninese health care professionals.
Surgeries include removal of life-threatening tumours, cleft lip and palate repairs, plastic reconstruction for severe burn-related injuries, hernia repairs, cataract removal, correction of orthopaedic deformities for children, obstetric fistula repair and dental care.
The Africa Mercy will stay docked in Benin until June 2017. Started in 1978, Mercy Ships has provided free medical services valued at more than $1 billion to more than 2.5 million people.
For further information, please contact:
National Office Manager, Mercy Ships Australia