Monrovia, Liberia (Vocus) November 14, 2008
One of the biggest challenges to providing increased access to health care for Liberia's citizens is the availability of functional medical equipment. Although Liberia is in the process of rebuilding, much of the country's infrastructure is still in ruins, including many health care facilities. Medical and support personnel are severely lacking. Many who lived in the country before the war were displaced, and most have not returned.
In addition, donor organizations have supplied new or used medical equipment, but often no one is trained to repair or install it. Add the difficulty in getting spare parts, separation of service manuals from equipment and instability of a power supply that causes frequent equipment failure, and you have an African hospital's biggest headache.
In an effort to address this issue, and at the request of the Liberian Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, six Liberian hospital technicians have recently completed the first Mercy Ships Mentoring Biomedical Technicians program. The technicians were chosen by five of the nation's hospitals and equipped with additional skills to install, maintain, and repair various complex medical equipment. The training will ensure that donations of essential equipment will be well used when the ship departs in December.
Developed and led by Carlos Amaral of Brazil, who recently completed his PhD in biomedical engineering from the Technical University, Munich, Germany, the program ran from March through October. It included courses in computer training, electricity, electronics and medical equipment. Funding was provided by German foundation PRANA-Stiftung and matched by Mercy Ships volunteer hours.
"We have been able to offer more services to the community because of the biomedical training program," said Denise Walsh RN, Director Redemption Hospital in Monrovia. "By teaching the staff how to manage and fix laboratory equipment, the hospital can now offer more testing to its patients. The arms of the Mercy Ship have reached many Liberians!"
The program was conducted in four phases: Assessment, On-site Training, Repair, and Awareness.
First, Mercy Ships assessed the area's hospitals to determine which institutions would be best served by the training and to ensure they would retain the participants upon completion. The second phase was a two-month instruction which took place onboard the Africa Mercy.
Phase three involved on-site training at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, Redemption Hospital, and ELWA Hospital, all in Monrovia, and at Phebe Hospital located at Bong County in Liberia's interior and Curran Hospital in Zozo.
Mercy Ships provided basic repair tool kits to the participants. Technicians learned how to order spare parts and repair equipment at their respective hospitals. Amaral gave hands-on instruction and guidance for the repair of 12 different types of machines, including anesthesia devices, centrifuges, and x-ray machines; and taught on the installation of 11 different machines, including chemistry analyzers, blood cell counters, and an electrocardiograph monitor.
The fourth part of the program was designed to promote biomedical engineering as a career choice in Liberia. Amaral held a series of additional workshops for students from the University of Liberia and Stella Maris Polytechnic College to sensitize students to the need for trained biomedical engineers in Liberia. Information was given about which universities offered programs and how to apply for scholarships, and attendees were encouraged to remain in Liberia to work.
A total of 99 Liberians attended the workshops and visited the ship to see the cutting-edge medical equipment onboard.
Saki Golafale, a workshop participant, said that he now can see a need for such professionals. "I only know one biomedical engineer in Liberia, and he is aging," said Golafale. "That gap needs to be filled."
Additionally, Amaral compiled a Report of Biomedical Infrastructure in Liberia for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, suggesting ways to improve working conditions, maintenance, procedures, and personnel qualifications in Liberia's major medical facilities after Mercy Ships leaves in December.
Based on the success of the initial Mentoring Biomedical Technicians program, Amaral hopes to increase the number of participants from to one to two per hospital during future port visits.
Meanwhile, this program leaves behind a legacy of hope and ongoing care in Liberia when the Mercy Ship moves on to the next port of call in Cotonou, Benin.
For more information contact:
Public Relations Manager
rickp @ mercyships.org
Director Media Relations
Mercy Ships International Operations
UK Tel: 44 1438 727 800
rickardd @ mercyships.org
Hi-res photos and general Mercy Ships footage are available for download with registration at http://www.mercyshipsnews.org or upon request.