The crucial need to accelerate access to surgical care and surgical education in West Africa as a global effort through partnerships was the focal point of events in the Netherlands last week.
Dr. Austin Demby, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health and Sanitation traveled to the Hague in the Netherlands to meet with Ernst Kuipers, the Dutch Minister for Health, Welfare and Sport and other government officials including those within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The epidemiologist and virologist, Dr. Demby, was in the country at the invitation of international development organization Mercy Ships as it hosted a medical symposium that highlighted the need for collaboration in strengthening health systems in sub-Saharan Africa. It supported the meetings and arranged the symposium to amplify the need for international co-operation.
Nine out of 10 people living in sub-Saharan Africa cannot access safe, affordable surgical care when they need it according to the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery. A survey of four low-income countries, including Sierra Leone, showed that around 19 per cent – nearly one on five children – has a surgically treatable condition.
Dr. Demby spoke at the symposium, entitled ‘Medical care for every person?’, which was organized by Mercy Ships Holland. Mercy Ships’ newest hospital ship is currently in Sierra Leone delivering more than 2,000 surgeries to those in greatest need and training hundreds of in-country professionals to upskill those delivering medical care.
Both during the discussions with Dutch government representatives and at the symposium, the central question was how international cooperation can lead to sustainable healthcare systems in Africa.
Dr. Demby said: “Medical care is not an end in itself; it is a platform for the development of people. The community itself is just as important as the care provider. Collaboration means being open to and listening to each other. Only through co-creation can we achieve sustainable healthcare.”
Dr. Sandra Lako, who oversees the work of Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone as Country Director, also spoke at the event.
She said after the event: “A common theme at the symposium was the importance of listening to, hearing, and learning from partners in a host-country, at government and community level, to facilitate co-creation of programmatic work with alignment and sustainability in mind. Together, we can strengthen healthcare systems in Africa.”
Other speakers included Professor Inge Hutter and Dr. Maarten IJzerman of Erasmus University’s Rotterdam Global Health Initiative, which seeks to find ways to diminish health inequalities between and within countries towards equitable healthcare worldwide. Dr. Arleen Westerhof of the Economic Summit, which aims to alleviate poverty and Mercy Ship’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Shrime.
Dr. Mark Shrime urged that the progress made, needs continued and urgent action. He said: “The Dakar Declaration calls upon all African nations, key partners, and stakeholders to commit to scaling up surgical services, infrastructure, and personnel available for patients who need them. Mercy Ships stands solidly behind this call, recognizing that one person dies of a surgically treatable disease every two seconds.”
Whilst highlighting the success of government and in-country initiatives to increase accessibility and affordability, the symposium concluded that international cooperation is essential for continued and necessary improvements in access to healthcare and education.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Mercy Ships.