Nurse Cristina – changing the world

Christina Van Der Zande from Holland knows first hand how difficult it is for African women to live without access to proper healthcare.

“Women living with health conditions like fistulas are usually totally alone, incontinent, smelling really bad all the time, not being allowed to be part of their community, and kicked out of home by their husbands. Having children is given such a priority that if a man cannot get a family from one woman, he will just find another. The women may think they’re alone and live a life of complete misery”, she explains.

Christina with a patientFortunately, volunteer nurses like Christina, are improving women’s health in Africa, and making sure that it continues to improve long after the ship leaves. Mercy Ships not only gives free surgeries to those in need, but also has capacity building projects so that healthcare can continue to improve through the education and employment of local staff.

“I think the combination of doing surgeries and local hospital capacity building at the same time sets Mercy Ships apart from other organizations. It’s important not only to help one person but also to leave something behind so that people can keep helping others and that’s what Mercy Ships is doing by training local nurses,” Christina explains.
Christina on the Africa Mercy wardA big part of Christina’s job, working on the obstetrics ward, is training local nurses who want to work in women’s health after the Africa Mercy leaves. Not only do volunteers train local nurses, but Mercy Ships also leaves behind the necessary facilities and tools so that more women are helped in the future.

“For a hospital to keep running you need your machines to keep running, so Mercy Ships has been training bio medical engineers so they can maintain and repair the machinery that is necessary to perform these surgeries. We’ve totally renovated the operating room itself. There is a team that went through the whole country to teach about the WHO checklist and other essential medical knowledge. They have donated oximeters so they can check newborn babies and we have already heard stories of lives being saved. It is really cool to leave that behind and to know that Women’s health will continue to improve”.