The worldwide pandemic has shaken countries around the world as healthcare systems struggle to meet the increased need in their areas. While the effects of the crisis caused us to leave our field service earlier than expected, Mercy Ships continues to fulfil our mission of hope and healing by utilizing technology to provide training courses.

Over the last several months, Mercy Ships has worked hard to establish a new eLearning program that allows participants from around the world to come together digitally for training. The program began in response to the COVID-19 crisis which caused delays in our normal programs.

The first course, offered in both French and English, was titled “The Heart of the Caregiver” and was moderated by Dr. Lyn Westman, Mental Health Consultant together with Glenn Strauss, M.D., Director of Medical Capacity Building.

“Access to those working at the front line has never been more important as healthcare, mental health providers and pastoral caregivers struggle to deal with the pandemic,” Dr. Strauss said. “eLearning tools have given us a new way to make sure our colleagues are connected with the critical information and training resources they need.”

Professionals involved in this initial course included key workers from nations Mercy Ships has worked with during the our 30 years of service within sub-Saharan Africa and involved professionals from Liberia, Togo, Benin, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cameroon working in areas ranging from mental health, community health training, psychiatric care, and hospital services.

Participants discussed strategies for maintaining personal safety and mental well-being and had the opportunity to discuss issues within their own settings and set their own goals for improvement while encouraging others in practical applications.

“This is a critical time to support both the mental, emotional, as well as physical health of our West African colleagues as they are on the front line of preparation within their own national healthcare situations,” Dr. Westman said. “It is important that they know they are not alone during this time when news of the virus in other parts of the world has created so much fear.”

study released in May by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that unless contained and controlled, the numbers within the African continent could rise dramatically to 190,000 deaths in the first year.

Although the spread of the virus in other parts of the world is already well enough known, Dr. Westman states that her African counterparts are working hard on strategies to contain the pandemic that has collapsed aspects of health systems within even the strongest developed countries, despite them having more resources, access to clean water and widespread hygiene measures.

In addition to the eLearning programs, Mercy Ships has worked to provide support to our African partners through PPE donations of nursing caps, medical protective glasses, masks, gloves, surgical gowns, shoe covers and more to combat the spread of the virus.

“Although many have predicted that the pandemic is inevitable within Africa and that this continent will soon become the epicenter of the new outbreak, we stand with our African partners at this crucial time,” Mercy Ships President Rosa Whitaker said. “It is our hope and belief that nations can get ahead of this curve and hold back the relentless effects that this pandemic could have on our formal and informal economies and people.”