Mercy Ships is well known for something we call "Mass Screening Days". It may even be something you think of when picture Mercy Ships in West Africa...long lines of tired people standing in the sun or rain all day for a chance to be seen by a doctor and possibly receive a free surgery. Maybe it looked something like this:
Up until a few years ago, this is how screening worked. The ship would arrive in a new country after advertising for several months about what kind of problems we can treat. We would rent out a big facility (like a stadium or empty building) and have hundreds of volunteers from the crew spend 12-14 hours seeing patients all day long, giving them dates for possible surgery and saying no to thousands of others who did not fit the criteria. Generally, the entire surgical schedule for a country would be filled in one day. While it was an exciting day that many looked forward to as "Mercy Ships Tradition", it was long and hard and not very efficient.
Then came Madagascar. This country was a completely different animal. A huge island with a poor transportation system and a port located hundreds of kilometers from the capital city - the only city that most of the population can easily get to. How do we find patients in a place like this? One giant screening day was just not an option.
In comes this idea of a Screening Team. The idea had already been in the works for a while because people had begun to realize that there had to be a better way to do things than mass screenings. Unfortunately, in our world today, we have to start considering things like safety and spread of disease. Attracting thousands of desperate people to one public place creates many problems in itself. So why not send the Screening Team to the patients instead of having them come to us? This was trialed in small scale the first year Mercy Ships was in Madagascar and used almost completely to find patients for Madagascar 2. Last year, the team went to 13 sites all over the country, screened patients we could help and invited them to the ship for a specific date when they could potentially have surgery.
|Screening Team - Madagascar 2015-16|
|Screening Team after a MAF trip in Madagascar|
|Cotonou Screening Center|
And now, the screening team has just returned from the first of 2 field screening trips to the north of Benin where several small screenings will be held specifically to see the patients found by these local screeners and give them a spot to come for surgery. Maybe it's just me, but that's a pretty awesome process! We're still waiting to find out how effective this method is, but if it works, there is the potential that it could be used in future countries, saving a lot of time and energy for the screening team and reducing the number of No's that must be said.
I even had a small part in the screening process this week! As Orthopedic Team Leader for the ward, I've had the opportunity to go along with our Orthopedic surgeon the past few days as he assessed about 100 patients with Orthopedic deformities to find which patients we could help. The screening team did a great job of finding many patients who will fit into our program. Although it was a long and full 3 days of seeing patients and organizing the schedule, it was very interesting to be a part of what goes on behind the scenes before our patients get admitted to the hospital.
|Orthopedic patients waiting to be seen by surgeon during screening|
|Straight legs coming your way!|
|Working on the schedule after a long day of seeing patients.|