Baby Anjara first to receive surgery in Madagascar as Mercy Ships operates in two African nations at once

Anjara in the arms of her mother in front of the Africa Mercy

Baby Anjara first to receive surgery in Madagascar as Mercy Ships operates in two African nations at once

Heads bow. Silence fills the hospital. Long-term volunteer surgeon, Dr Gary Parker leads the volunteer medical crew in prayer on board the Africa Mercy.

It’s Tuesday 28th May and today ten-month-old Anjara will be the first patient to receive life-changing surgery in Madagascar since Mercy Ships was last in the island nation in 2016.

Anjara was born with a bilateral cleft lip. In the UK, the condition typically is treated in infancy. But in sub-Saharan Africa, with limited access to surgery, many children simply cannot get treatment. The condition can lead to malnutrition if infants are unable to nurse, and it can lead to social exclusion or stigma as the children grow older.

Lalaina, Anjara’s mother, was filled with profound gratitude and relief when she heard about her daughter’s surgery date.

She said: “I thank God that Mercy Ships is here to help repair my baby’s cleft lip.”

Following the successful surgery, Anjara’s father, Mamy Jean Victor, expressed his gratitude:

“I thank God for sending Mercy Ships to help my daughter so she can be like other kids. I hope their work continues for other children in need.”

Anjara at home in the arms of her mother before surgery
Anjara in surgery to repair her cleft lip

Anjara’s surgery marks a significant landmark as Mercy Ships operates two hospital ships at once in Africa for the first time.

While the Africa Mercy delivers patient care and surgical training in Madagascar, the Global Mercy is simultaneously serving patients in Sierra Leone.

“It is just amazing to span the east and west of Africa. It really is the beginning of a next chapter” remarked Nathan Jansen, Africa Mercy managing director. “This day is the culmination of many years of work and preparation. It is truly special to welcome Anjara as our first patient, heralding a new chapter for Mercy Ships.

“As Mercy Ships expands its work across the continent, healthcare access and quality continues to grow. The dedication and hard work of our volunteers and staff, coupled with the generous support of our donors, have made this historic moment possible.”

This marks Mercy Ships’ fourth healthcare service in Madagascar, following previous visits in 1996, 2015 and 2016. Over the course of previous visits, Mercy Ships collaborated with the government and the Ministry of Health to provide more than 6,425 life-changing surgical procedures and over 52,395 dental procedures. In addition to these surgeries, Mercy Ships has a longstanding commitment to education, having trained 2,019 healthcare professionals in the past.

Dr Lethicia Lydia Yasmine, Madagascar’s Secretary General of the Ministry of Health, believes that the key obstacles to advancing surgery and anaesthesia in the country are a lack of staff, reduced capacity, resource limitations, and inequity in access to surgical care. One specific barrier to access to surgery is a lack of insurance, causing costs to be too high for many patients to access care.

During this year’s healthcare service in the Port of Toamasina, Mercy Ships will offer direct medical services to more than 1,000 patients, simultaneously mentoring and training healthcare professionals to strengthen surgical and anaesthetic systems in the country.