Benin's President Boni Welcomes Mercy Ship

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Highlights Millennium Challenge Initiative and Access to Health Care for the Poor

A four- month-old baby awaiting corrective surgery on her cleft lip is cradled in her mother's arms as President Yayi Boni and Minister of Health, Issifou Takpara, greet them.

Our ambition is to bring health to everyone here (in Benin). That is why we are so grateful you have come. Everything you are doing enters perfectly into what we would like for Benin

During the Mercy Ship's first week of surgeries in their nation, the President of Benin, Dr. Thomas Yayi Boni, and several cabinet ministers visited the Africa Mercy to express hope for increasing access to health care for the poor in his nation.

President Boni emphasized the contribution Mercy Ships is making to his government's effort in providing better access to health care. He spoke briefly about the 'Millennium Challenge,' a government initiative that seeks to provide improved access and infrastructure to the people of Benin.

"Our ambition is to bring health to everyone here (in Benin). That is why we are so grateful you have come. Everything you are doing enters perfectly into what we would like for Benin," explained President Boni in his address to the crew onboard.

In his speech, the President quoted from Psalm 41: 'Blessed is he that considers the poor.' He mentioned his gratitude for the determination Mercy Ships showed in reaching out through additional screenings held in the North of Benin shortly after the ship docked. Screenings last week near the port of Cotonou were attended by more than 5,000 people seeking help.

The volunteer crew is projected to impact more than 53,000 lives by providing free medical care, training, and capacity building programs during its 10-month field service in Benin, according to Mercy Ships CEO Sam Smith.

In February 2006, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) signed a five-year, approximately $307 million USD grant agreement with the Government of Benin to improve physical and institutional infrastructure by focusing on access to four critical sectors: land, financial services, justice, and markets.

"We would like to create a new and modern Benin. That is why you are partners of Benin. My government and I are here to show you our thanks for your being here," Boni said, stating that Mercy Ships is a true friend, as this is the fourth visit of a Mercy Ship to his country. The last visit was in 2004.

The President's entourage was given a guided tour of the Africa Mercy's hospital, including one of the operating rooms and a visit to patients in one of the wards.

Mercy Ships Founder/President, Don Stephens, formally thanked President Boni for the co-operation and support the people of Benin have shown to Mercy Ships. He spoke of the commitment the ship's crew and offices in 15 nations have to help Benin during this economically stretching time in the world.

Sandwiched between Nigeria and Togo, nearly a third of Benin's population of 8.5 million residents live on less than $2 a day, according to UN figures.¹ For the past decade, Benin has been at the forefront of African democratization. Yet, the country remains beset with numerous problems, as evidenced by its ranking of 163 out of 177 countries on the Human Development Index.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
USA: Pauline Rick, US PR Director
Mercy Ships
tel: (903) 939 7649
rickp(at)mercyships.org

International:
Diane Rickard, Director International Public Relations
Mercy Ships
UK tel: 44 1438 727 800
rickardd(at)mercyships.org

Broadcast video clips, hi-res photos and audio clips of the event, the Africa Mercy arrival into Cotonou and ship's screening are available for media download with a quick registration at http://www.mercyshipsnews.org .

About Mercy Ships
Mercy Ships is the leader in using hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services to the poor. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the poor in developing nations. Over the past 30 years, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $670 million, directly impacting more than 1.9 million people. More than 850 crew worldwide, representing more than 35 nations, are joined each year by hundreds of short-term volunteers. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, community developers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. For more information click on http://www.mercyships.org .

¹http://hdrstats.undp.org/2008/countries/country_fact_sheets/cty_fs_BEN.html

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Pauline Rick

Diane Rickard
Mercy Ships
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