Setting sail for humanitarian adventures in Africa


Setting sail on the high seas might sound like a pirate adventure, but for Burnside Hospital Nurse Coordinator Ross McIlwraith, it’s an opportunity to delve into his passion for international aid.

Mr McIlwraith will join the crew of the ‘Africa Mercy’ for three months, as part of a team delivering onboard clinical services to the people of Guinea, West Africa.

While he will be providing the care – up to 2000 procedures are expected – he is thankful for the opportunity to be part of the mission.

“These are people who sometimes walk for days to receive treatment that they have waited a lifetime to receive. Debilitating, often painful conditions have been endured by both children and adults, most of whom could not afford a Panadol, let alone surgery,” he said.

“I am honoured to be able to support such a deserving and grateful community of people.”

This is not Mr McIlwraith’s first humanitarian stint, he was part of a similar tour to the Solomon Islands in 1988.

He is aware life at sea will be only one of his challenges. Cultural and psychological distress are often experienced by volunteers, not to mention the political unrest of the region.

Nonetheless, he has made the decision to put aside his own comfort for the benefit of others.

The ‘Africa Mercy,’ part of the Mercy Ships organisation, is the world’s largest non-military hospital ship, boasting five operating theatres and 80 beds. The conditions treated onboard can vary, with the most frequent being cataracts in children and adults and reconstructive surgery for burns, a common ailment due to lifestyle factors in Guinea.

In addition to clinical care, the team aboard the ship also provide education and training for local medical teams and run an agricultural program to support local farmers, teaching them sustainable farming practices. Mr McIlwraith has been a nurse for 40 years, 20 of these at Burnside Hospital. To follow his journey aboard the Africa Mercy, visit his blog.


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