Christian medic swaps Senegal hospital ship for NHS coronavirus battle
Only a few months ago, Paediatric Anaesthetist Michelle White MB ChB DCH FRCA was serving the people of Senegal onboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity-run hospital ship.
Now she is back home in the thick of a health crisis of a different nature, one she never imagined in all her years working with fragile health systems overseas.
For the past 15 years, 49-year-old Michelle White has sailed the high seas, serving as a Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Medical Capacity Building Director, and Anaesthesia Supervisor onboard a Mercy Ship.
Since August 2019 Mercy Ships had been involved providing more than 1,400 specialised surgeries, healthcare and training in the Port of Dakar. Until COVID-19 shut the borders and made travel and the programmes onboard the ship impossible.
As a part of the Mercy Ships International Board, White also has input into the remote training courses that the ship’s medical specialists are developing to continue to support African medical staff who were mentored onboard the hospital ship during her service within the West African nations of Senegal, Guinea, Cameroon, Madagascar and Congo.
For the past several years, she has also worked as a Consultant Paediatric Anaesthetist at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London where she now works overtime in the race against the virus while her own nation remains in lockdown. White states that the same motivation which compelled her to serve in developing nations steadies her in the battle to keep her part in NHS’s system from buckling under the strain of coronavirus.
“It is frightening to see how unprepared we all were for a pandemic of this scale. Even in a country like the UK which has a fantastic National Health System and a government with resources to help citizens who have become unemployed we are still struggling.
"I am extremely concerned about the situation in low income countries where the health systems are far more fragile and will quickly become overwhelmed, and governments lack the financial resources to provide for the poorest members of society.
“Today, our city is on the frontline,” White says. “I’ve spent my last 15 years investing in fragile healthcare systems in Africa and have faith that it’s possible to tip the balance if we stay focused on the simple things. With this fight, that means staying home, rigorous personal hygiene, helping one another and not taking the gift of our nation’s health infrastructure for granted.
"We are all in this together, no matter which country or city in the world we live in, and together we are crying out to God for mercy and help in our time of need.”
White hopes to continue her investment into the work of Mercy Ships in her role again more fully once the crisis at home is over.