IT master joins African mercy mission

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Invercargill man Alex Merlos Ruiz has travelled to Belgium to volunteer his IT skills on the world's newest civilian hospital ship, Global Mercy. Photo: Mercy Ships

IT has been a whirlwind past few weeks for Invercargill man Alex Merlos Ruiz.

Determined to invest his technical skills and information technology (IT) career experience for a good cause, the Brazilian-born man departed Invercargill late last month to volunteer aboard the world’s newest civilian hospital ship, Global Mercy.

After spending two years studying for a Masters in Information Technology at the Southern Institute of Technology, Mr Ruiz was searching for a meaningful cause to invest his experience and training in.

He found it in a hospital ship charity.

Last Sunday, he stood with other Mercy Ships volunteer crew members dockside in Antwerp, Belgium, to welcome the recently launched 37,000-gross-tonne Global Mercy into port.

Global Mercy joins current hospital ship, Africa Mercy, allowing Mercy Ships to more than double the impact of its work; with life-changing operations, as well as education and training of local healthcare workers in some of the poorest countries in Africa.

This recently launched vessel is about to undergo the final touches, transforming it from ship into hospital ship.

Operating theatres, wards and other service areas across two full hospital decks will be completely outfitted in the next three months including an intensive care unit paid for by donations from New Zealanders.

Mr Ruiz’s role is in the technical team – building and installing the IT systems to run the surgical hospital, and meet the IT and computer communication needs for 600 crew members’ work and personal lives on board.

In addition to the usual computer technology, the hospital ship will use training suites and simulator rooms with mannequins, and virtual and augmented reality, to help mentor and upskill partner healthcare workers while in field service in sub-Saharan Africa.

Each year, Global Mercy spent 10 months in an African port by invitation, providing healthcare services where more than 93% of the population live without access to timely, safe and affordable surgery.

From correcting cleft lips and palates and congenital deformities to removing tumours and restoring eyesight, it is estimated more than 150,000 lives will be changed on board Global Mercy through surgery alone during the vessel’s 50-year expected lifespan.

“Computer systems are vital for every department on board,” Mr Ruiz said, who is volunteering for six months with Mercy Ships as a service desk administrator.

“It’s not just a simple department that deals with computers and devices any more. It is at the core of all business.

“I can help people to do their jobs better, for Africa. We can help the clinical staff to have good performance so technology isn’t a barrier that can interfere in their work helping African patients.

“I can help people to do their jobs better, for Africa. We can help the clinical staff to have good performance so technology isn’t a barrier that can interfere in their work helping African patients.

“It’s amazing to give a contribution to this world, and at the same time have amazing experiences.

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