Heroes of Healthcare: Benin’s First Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Odry Agbessi

woman in hospital operating room
Dr. Fifonsi Odry Agbessi, Benin’s first and only plastic surgeon, works with Dr. Tertius Venter (ZAF) learning from him in the OR.

Through the capacity building program, Mercy Ships works hand-in-hand with government officials and local medical professionals to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure in Africa – and has been doing so for almost 30 years. In that time, Mercy Ships has been introduced to countless talented medical professionals who bring hope and healing to their communities – and the world. We want you to meet these Heroes of Healthcare, starting with Benin’s first Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon: Dr. Fifonsi Odry Agbessi. 

Dr. Odry decided on her career path when she learned about a woman who was badly burned by acid. Due to the lack of basic healthcare available in Benin, the woman was forced to travel to Europe for treatment. At the time, Dr. Odry was only 12 years old. Fast forward to 2009, she was introduced to Mercy Ships. Seven years later her medical journey officially began when she visited and trained onboard Africa Mercy while the ship conducted a field service in her home country, Benin.

woman looking out window
Portrait of Dr. Odry

How was your learning experience with the Mercy Ships program? 

A day onboard the ship is never the same! When I started in the mentoring program in 2016, I shadowed and worked with Dr. Tertius Venter, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon from South Africa. I was able to strengthen my skill set as a surgeon by visiting patients, participating in the screening of patients and operating with him. In that time, I learned many invaluable lessons – especially the management of burn contracture. At the same time, I was a student in the Mercy Ships medical capacity building program, which is how I’m now involved in delivering the essential pain management (EPM) course across Benin.

You are now a fully operating Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon in Benin. Are you still involved with Mercy Ships?

I learned so much and had access to so much knowledge that helped me a lot in my career. Now, I use my experience by volunteering in their medical capacity building efforts – particularly with the essential pain management (EPM) and essential surgical skill (ESS) courses. And with the support of Mercy Ships, I travel and host courses for healthcare workers across West Africa, with the ultimate goal of improving access to quality surgery for the populations of those countries. 

How has your time with Mercy Ships helped you implement long-term medical capacity care in Benin? 

At my job at the National Teaching Hospital in Benin, I use the tools and learnings I gained through Mercy Ships to train healthcare workers so that we can adapt our own protocol based on our reality – but in line with the global guidelines. In fact, I am very proud to say that thanks to Mercy Ships, we have our own protocol of pain management at the National Teaching Hospital in Benin. Now, every time we conduct our patient rounds, we check their pain levels in a uniform manner and are able to provide them with adequate treatment. This monitoring of pain is now collected in each patient record, which was not effective before this new protocol. 

Former trainee and Beninese surgeon, Dr. Odry, teaches local Health care workers about Essential Pain Management.

In addition to her daily work at the National Teaching Hospital in Benin and medical capacity training with Mercy Ships, Dr. Odry also leads Via Me Benin, a nonprofit she founded in her home country. Her goal? To give other young healthcare professionals the opportunity to volunteer within their own communities. 

Interested to learn more about Mercy Ships or how you can help and leave a lasting legacy in Africa? Go to our website WorldProblemsFirst.org.

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