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– a doctor is a doctor

MY FIRST INSIGHT into medical work on board was on the M/S Kirribilli, moored in Cape Town, South Africa for loading. One of the stevedores had got a very deep cut in his hand, and despite the fact we were at berth, it was the second mate who had to stitch the wound together. And he could really sew – it looked like a professional job. However, it is doubtful whether he had been allowed to sew the cut if it had been a white stevedore. This was during the apartheid years and black people probably had few other options for medical care.
IN 2010 two students wrote a dissertation on health care on ships. The paper was called ”Medical care on board – how does it work in real life?” and is based on a questionnaire survey. Of the officers responsible for medical care, more than half answered ”No” to the question of whether they considered themselves able to provide equally good medical care on board compared with ashore. Some thought that it was sufficient on standard merchant ships, others that it was good enough for simple cases. Some said that the medical training was not sufficient for working on passenger ships. Some of the criticisms were that the intervals were too long between certificate renewals, and that not all of the crew had some form of medical training. They also thought that there should be a nurse or doctor on large passenger ships. Several of the shipping companies on the Swedish east coast already had a nurse on board. That relieves the crew, of course, but with up to 3,500 passengers there should perhaps be someone that is qualified as a doctor.
THROUGH THE YEARS I have seen different treatments on board. Second mates do as well as they can in the circumstances, but they do not have any specialist medical skills, of course, after only 30 hours theory and 18 hours practical exercises during their training as a master, and four days’ placement in emergency care. Should a serious situation arise on board, however, there is always Radio Medical to turn to for medical advice around the clock.
Karl-Arne Johansson/SEKO Seafarers

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