Mr Leo Cheng, consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the Spire Roding Hospital, returns from the most rewarding trip of the year.
For the past 11 years, Mr Cheng has taken voyage on the Africa Mercy ship. The Mercy ships aren’t your typical cruise liner: it’s the world’s largest non-government hospital ship. The ship consists of five operating theatres, X-ray facilities, a CT scanner, a pharmacy and a laboratory, as well as four wards and a small intensive care unit. Sailing through West Africa’s poorest countries, it provides free humanitarian aid and lifesaving medical care.
Mr Cheng is one of the 450 volunteers onboard the ship, where he annually uses his entitled holiday to self-fund his mission. He knows that this will be the only opportunity for some people in West Africa to receive established medical treatment. He said: "I want to use my skills to bring hope and healing to desperate people with no money or access to medical services."
The Africa Mercy recently completed a 10 month outreach in Congo-Brazzaville, where its volunteers performed more than 1,944 surgeries, 4,054 surgical procedures and 1,700 dental procedures on 1,740 patients.
In order to communicate a clear message of the ship’s arrival to the residents of Congo-Brazzaville, several weeks of planning and preparation went into broadcasting radio announcements and creating posters and leaflets. However due to the low levels of literacy, leaflets were printed and distributed using photographs to demonstrate the medical conditions the ship treats.
The screening process for patients is very efficient with the first day of screening usually taking place in a large football stadium or a government building to accommodate the large numbers of people who will turn up; more than 7,000 people came to the first day in Congo-Brazzaville.
The first stage of the selection process consists of nurses walking the primary line to foresee the most urgent cases - people with breathing difficulties or people with noticeable facial deformities. Those patients are then invited to proceed through registration and a consultation with the surgical team.
Due to the nature of Mr Cheng’s training, many of the patients he treated on board were benign conditions of the head and neck region that can develop into extensive tumours. Some patients are as young as one year old, like baby Moses.
Moses was born with a significant fronstonsal encephalocele, which is a very rare case to be seen at a Mercy Ship screening as many patients don’t survive past childhood. After gaining some weight through a feeding programme on the ship, Moses had his encephhalocele removed and dura repaired with a coronal flap, frontal craniontomy and calvarial bone graft by two ship surgeons (Gary Parker and Leo Cheng). Moses recovered well from the operation and was able to live a normal life.