Over 50% of the population lives within 100 miles of the coast. Many nations lack clean water, reliable electricity, medical facilities and personnel. Our ships deliver a state-of-the-art hospital to port cities, providing a controlled, safe and clean environment for patients—and volunteers.
Mercy Ships exist as a compassionate response to a world in need.
Since 1978, Mercy Ships and its volunteers treat life threatening tumours, cleft lip and palate repairs, plastic reconstruction for severe burn-related injuries, hernia repairs, cataract removal, correction for orthopaedic deformities (club foot, bowed legs and other severe abnormalities), obstetric fistula repair and dental care. Each year, we’ve been able to reach more people to provide life-changing surgeries.
Below is a list of our surgeries and programs:
Goal: Support local health-care systems by reducing the effects of neglected trauma, disease, and congenital conditions through maxillofacial surgeries and treatments.
Craniofacial tumours, cleft lip and cleft palate, and ear-nose-throat diseases are life-threatening conditions for children and adults throughout Africa. An uncorrected cleft palate makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a baby to nurse or drink from a bottle. Even benign facial tumours can grow to such large and distorting sizes that the capacity for an adult to function as a normal member of the community is impossible.
In Africa, where there is little or no access to the health-care services and specialized surgeries needed to deal with these maladies, Mercy Ships works to fill the void.
The surgical teams identify the patients we can help and then begin the process of transforming lives with free life-altering, life-saving surgeries.
Goal: Improve the quality of health in Africa by providing life-changing and life-saving plastic reconstructive surgeries.
Severe wound scars, benign tumours, chronic ulcers, and burn contractures (a tightening of the skin that restricts movement) are prevalent in countries where machetes and open cooking fires are part of daily life.
The Mercy Ships plastic surgery team provides relief from pain and disfigurements through specialized surgical interventions. In order to prepare for surgery, many patients are admitted to the hospital days before their procedures. The surgery is performed under general or local anaesthesia in an operating room on-board the Africa Mercy.
For severe burns, skin transplants release burn contractures and restore range of motion. Following a brief stay in the post-anaesthesia care unit, recovering patients transfer to the inpatient ward where, during the post-operative period, nurses monitor them closely to ensure stable vital signs, and manage their recovery and follow-up, including transition to outpatient care.
Goal: To address neglected trauma and congenital conditions by providing specialized orthopaedic care and physical therapy.
Eighty percent of the world’s fractures and the majority of club feet occur in developing nations. Without appropriate medical care, those who have these types of defects experience a life of pain and shame.
When Mercy Ships docks in a developing nation, crew members roll out an orthopaedics program that includes life-changing surgeries and teaching local health care providers a universal non-surgical technique, the Ponseti method, for correcting club feet.
Because orthopaedic correction is often a multi-year process, we train and mentor personnel in the community to pick up where Mercy Ships leaves off. Not only does this help ensure the successful completion of treatment for each patient, but it also has a direct long-term impact on the local economy. The skills for manufacturing casting and brace products, providing physical therapy and counselling services, and other related jobs are passed on. These income-generating skills benefit the local economy.
Goal: To reduce the prevalence of obstetric fistulas among women by providing specialized surgical treatment, training and awareness.
The birth of a child should be joyful. But for many women in developing nations, it’s the beginning of a downward spiral into pain, loneliness and poverty. For those without access to routine medical or surgical care during and after delivery, chronic medical issues such as incontinence can lead to spousal abandonment and community ostracism.
These medical problems – vesicovaginal fistulas and rectovaginal fistulas – are relatively unknown in western countries where caesarean sections are widely available. These fistulas occur during prolonged or difficult labour, and they can have devastating physical, emotional and spiritual consequences.
Mercy Ships doctors, nurses and other caring volunteers provide a holistic approach to treatment. In addition to medical treatment, we shower them with love, acceptance and head-to-toe healing. Mercy Ships has a special way of celebrating their return to society — we hold a joyous ceremony and give each woman a new dress that symbolizes her beauty. The women leave the ship with follow-up instructions and knowledge to take back to other women in their communities.
Goal: Reduce the effects of neglected trauma, disease and congenital conditions by providing general surgeries.
Hernias and goitres often plague adults and children in many developing countries in Africa. Children with these conditions miss school. Adults become unable to work. The cycle of poverty is perpetuated. Often, a simple surgery can relieve the burden of these conditions.
Mercy Ships provides free corrective surgeries to the suffering poor in the communities we serve. We also work in partnership with local and national governments, a variety of partners, and local physicians, to continue providing the specialized surgeries that facilitate life-enhancing and, in many cases, life-saving transformations.
Goal: To reduce the prevalence of blindness and poor vision due to cataracts among the poor and to build the capacity of the local eye-care system.
The Mercy Ships eye program addresses surgical and medical eye needs in environments where preventable blindness is widespread. The primary emphasis of surgical intervention is to reduce blindness as a result of cataracts.
Non-surgical eye care focuses on allergies, infections, injuries and pain. Sunglasses are distributed to protect sensitive eyes after operations, and reading glasses are supplied to visually impaired patients.
The program also provides many opportunities to train local surgeons and provide ophthalmic training for local health workers.
Goal: To address dental disease by providing dental education and treatments such as restorations, extractions and cleaning as well as building local capacity.
Good dental hygiene is more than just a beautiful smile. It’s prevention of gum disease, cavities, and other problems.
In developing nations, dental care is often non-existent or unaffordable. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are luxury items, not necessities. Mercy Ships conducts free dental clinics to address untreated tooth decay and problems caused by lack of oral hygiene…and, of course, to provide free toothbrushes!
Many people in Africa have never seen a dentist. What a joy to take the specialized skills of our volunteer dentists and hygienists directly to them via the Africa Mercy – and then reap the rewards of seeing each new smile.
During a typical 10-month stay in port, we do more than just pull teeth, fill cavities, and fit patients for dentures. With an eye on the future, we work in the community to teach basic oral health education to elementary and secondary students. We also form mentoring relationships with local dental health workers. They learn to assist dentists and sterilize equipment, and we train them to teach oral hygiene to others. All this ensures we can continue to make a difference long after we leave the country.
The Africa Mercy provides state-of-the-art medical care to some of the poorest countries in the world. In addition, the ship’s medical team offers many educational and assistance programs that support these medical services. For example, the Infant Feeding Program aids extremely malnourished infants in receiving vital nutrition.
The Infant Feeding Program helps approximately 20-30 infants throughout a field service. It even assists with weekly transportation costs to ensure that these infants come to the ship on a regular basis. Regular visits are essential to monitoring their progress and assessing any other medical problems they may have.
In addition to babies with cleft lips and palates, other severely malnourished babies are seen as well. They suffer from conditions such as tumours or noma, a gangrenous disease leading to tissue destruction of the face, especially the mouth and cheek. It is vitally important that these children gain sufficient weight prior to surgery.
One of the most common treatments used in the Infant Feeding Program is a natural food supplement derived from the moringa tree. The tree’s leaves are full of proteins and vitamins, and they can be eaten raw, dried, or cooked. The babies gain healthy weight while also boosting their immune systems.
What is the Infant Feeding Program?
- The problem is malnutrition and feeding difficulties
- Main focus is infants with cleft lip and palate and other surgical candidates
- Goal is weight gain, if they don’t gain enough they can’t have surgery!
Why have the Infant Feeding Program?
- Infants with a cleft lip or palate can have difficulties breastfeeding and quickly become malnourished
- Many of these infants need supplemental feeding to grow and gain weight
What the Infant Feeding Program does:
- Provide education
- Provide support
- Provide supplies
- Feeding supplies
Goal: Improve the availability and quality of mental health services in Western Africa.
In developing countries, individuals suffering from mental illness are often marginalized by their communities. At times, adverse community reaction to mentally ill patients leads to further abuse. This negative reaction is typically due to a poor understanding of mental illness.
While a few undeveloped countries have facilities that offer mental health care, they are often insufficient. Primary health-care workers are integral for the delivery of quality mental health services and our training programs for them significantly improve treatment.
We demystify mental illness for them by providing knowledge about and compassion for the sufferers of these confusing diseases. Church leaders are also mentored through counseling courses. Additional community-based training includes two-day workshops for teachers and social workers, prison workers, and military leaders.
Goal: To model the love of Jesus by giving practical care and support to individuals suffering from terminal illness, and to their extended families.
Unfortunately, not every person who comes to the Africa Mercy with a physical or medical need will benefit from an operation. For many, the ship arrives too late — their condition has progressed beyond the point where medical help will bring healing.
While those with terminal illnesses are suffering from physical, spiritual and emotional pain, their families are also suffering with them. The Mercy Ships Palliative Care Team assists these patients and families during this sensitive time.
We provide training for the physical care of patients. We invite local churches to offer spiritual and practical support. Often, the terminally ill patients are the primary breadwinners of their families. In these cases, Mercy Ships works with surviving family members to develop new income opportunities. We follow the model of Jesus as we tenderly care for dying patients and their grieving families.
Mercy Ships seek to leave communities more fully equipped with the training, tools and infrastructure to care for their own. By helping empower those who stay behind, we’re able to leave a legacy that extends for years — even generations.
Sustainable health care requires a plan. Mercy Ships Capacity Building programs identify local needs and work closely with the local governments to establish initiatives that make a lasting difference.
The HOPE Center:
When Mercy Ships arrives in port, screenings are organized throughout the country. Patients near the port can easily travel to the ship. For others, reaching the ship is harder. To reduce the need for multiple trips, Mercy Ships establishes a Hospital Out-Patient Extension (HOPE) Center to provide housing for patients and caregivers near the ship. After surgery, the HOPE Center offers a safe, clean environment that promotes effective recovery while maintaining easy access to the ship for follow-up care.
The HOPE Center also frees bed space in the ship’s hospital ward so we can help more people.
HOPE Center Goals
- To renovate an existing health-care facility.
- To provide a safe, clean environment for patients and their families during the pre- and post-operative phases of surgery.
- To leave behind an improved facility for increased health-care capacity and access
Mercy Ships emphasizes lasting social change based on biblical principles. Community leaders, teachers and churches are encouraged to see themselves as agents of change. Conferences and workshops offer practical help on issues like HIV/AIDS, micro-finance and community cooperation.
Medical Infrastructure and Construction
Healthcare workers in the developing world often lack adequate facilities to serve their communities. Medical administrators with limited resources may have to choose between infrastructure development or maintenance and paying their workers. Collaborating with local healthcare partners, Mercy Ships provides construction and renovation services that enhance local health care resources.
Medical Tools and Resources
Healthcare workers in the developing world often lack the medicine, equipment and tools necessary to deliver basic care. Mercy Ships helps meet these practical challenges by distributing much-needed equipment and resources and providing training in equipment maintenance and operation.
Medical Training and Mentoring
Mercy Ships offers specialized training to local health care professionals — surgeons, nurses, doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists, midwives, and community health workers — in techniques and procedures appropriate for their environments. Healthcare workers also receive World Health Organization training in disease management.
Mercy Ships partners with local agencies to help families and communities learn practical and natural food-producing skills that reduce malnutrition and increase food security. Improved crops and conservation-oriented farming methods result in more income and better health for the farmers, their families and their communities.
Clean Water and Sanitation for Hospitals
Some hospitals lack a safe and reliable water supply. Mercy Ships partners with local agencies to improve this critical situation.