From Milton Keynes to Madagascar: How UK companies are partnering with Africa through Mercy Ships 

Optimum Biomedical Partnership

From Milton Keynes to Madagascar: How UK companies are partnering with Africa through Mercy Ships 

Transforming lives through Mercy Ships takes a global effort with international partnerships that may surprise you. Let us introduce you to a firm in Milton Keynes – Optimum Biomedical – that is a key player in fulfilling the charity’s objectives to strengthen healthcare in the countries that need it most.

Mercy Ships ultimate aim is to put ourselves out of business.

This hope comes from its unwavering endeavour to elevate the standards of medical practices through training, mentoring and resources to such a level that the charity is no longer needed.

But this effort requires expertise and support from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, ranging from surgical skills to anaesthetists’ training and sterilisation procedures to agriculture and food production.

All this medical capacity-building training is offered free of charge, in the hope that each nation we partner with achieves a lasting legacy of sustainable change.

This objective is one that is shared by Sean Ryder, managing director of our Milton Keynes partner, Optimum Biomedical. Sean is a qualified biomedical technician who has been training other biomedical technicians in African nations for Mercy Ships for the past eight years.

Through his work and those of his employees, he is making a tangible difference and one that is ensuring longer-lasting and further reaching change.

Sean said, “The people we are working with have had limited training or have been trained wrong.

“We often discover some of the equipment that has been donated by other charities and organisations is not even working, so we help them write a criteria for them to make sure they ask donors for specific things.

“We frequently find that even nurses and doctors are using the equipment wrongly and can damage equipment when they are not connecting it correctly, for example. We build on all of that, and we teach the biomeds how to gracefully teach others without making them feel silly.”

They do this through a 10-week-long course that has approximately three weeks of theory, five weeks of practical and the final two weeks of advanced anaesthetic equipment theory and practical.

By the end, the course participants are adept at using, understanding and maintaining a host of equipment such as patient monitors, ECG, infusion devices, oxygen concentrators, ultrasound, and sterilisers and the students also receive First Aid training and Train the Trainer elements.

Awe-inspiring transformations

On completion of the students’ accredited exams, the transformations are often awe-inspiring.

For example, a training course Sean worked on in Madagascar found the hospital struggling with broken equipment and extremely limited resources and tools on arrival. By the time Sean left, the hospital not only had fully trained biomed staff, but the right equipment and skills to help themselves – and others.

Sean said, “The biomed department literally had six broken tools and rooms of medical equipment that was just beyond repair. After we left, they even went on to repair equipment for other hospitals bringing in additional income to the hospital.
“It’s brilliant to see somewhere transform like that – truly amazing.”

Transformations like these is what it is all about for Sean and for Mercy Ships. By creating an extra revenue for the hospital, this creates a sustainable change.

“We dramatically change how the hospitals we are involved with do things and offer ongoing mentoring. We have given them the tools to carry out their work correctly, computers with internet when required and test equipment that they have been trained on.”

Challenging circumstances

Sean has worked in often challenging circumstances across Liberia, Guinea, Senegal and Cameroon where they try hard to not just deal with infrastructure issues but try to inspire lasting change in mindsets too.

“The toughest was probably Liberia, heavy rain caused power outages that lasted for days on end. Senegal is the biggest success story. They still have issues but the biomeds have a real desire to do the right thing and they work really hard when given the right support and opportunities. I am really looking forward to the mentoring which should help produce outstanding results and the beginning of real change where it is needed.”

Whatever they do, Sean makes sure he reminds those he trains that this is all about people’s lives.

He said, “When we are working for Mercy Ships and other organisations around the world, we are making a difference and saving lives and I want this to stay at the forefront of the mind of everyone I train. I remind them that at the end of every hose or cable on whatever piece of equipment it is, there is someone’s life, – we need to always remember this.”

In the UK, Optimum Biomedical look after the equipment of 26 GP surgeries and Sean often reflects on the very different circumstances we enjoy with the NHS in the UK.

Sean said, “I think we often forget how lucky we are here. I feel uncomfortable about getting paid for my work for Mercy Ships without giving back so I donate equipment and sponsor someone African-based on a Mercy Ships hospital ship every year, so I feel I am giving something back.”

Mercy Ships UK CEO Joanna Balaam, “We are so grateful for the ongoing support of everyone at Optimum Biomedical for their help in building capacity and self-sufficiency in local communities in nations across Africa, and too all of our UK-based partners. Their partnerships are leaving a lasting legacy.”

Sean with the course participants