A working holiday

In 2006 Ear, nose and throat surgeon Mark Shrime spent six months on a Mercy Ship, operating on needy people in West Africa. He now works at Harvard Medical School, in the United States, as Research Director for the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change. Twice a year he returns to the hospital ship Africa Mercy to operate on more needy patients.

Shrime says; “It’s honestly the two months out of the year that really centre me. My career has been about the delivery of surgery in low-income countries, most of it from a research and policy standpoint. To be here on the ground doing the things I’m writing about and talking about and studying – it really does remind me why I do what I do the rest of the time”.

Shrime also works with a special team called the “Lancet Commission on Global Surgery”, set up by the prestigious UK medical journal The Lancet. Five billion people around the world do not have access to essential surgery. There may be an operating room, but it might not be very safe. Even if there is a safe operating room, patients might not be able to afford it or get to it in time.

“One of the difficulties of ‘fixing’ surgery in developing countries is; you can’t fix surgery by simply building more operating rooms, or by simply training surgeons. To fix surgery you have to fix everything. You have to fix the electricity, the suction, the water, the training, the biomed technology and the infrastructure. It is a really difficult thing to do. However, if you can do all that, then this is a good way then to scale up and fix an entire health system”, says Shrime.