Port Visits

People Impacted

Developing Nations

The Solution

Over 50% of the population lives within 100 miles of the coast. Many nations lack clean water, reliable electricity, medical facilities and personnel. Mercy Ships deploys hospital ships to provide direct medical care to patients with unmet surgical needs.

Mercy Ships works with host nations to strengthen existing health systems and improve access to quality healthcare for all.

Since 1978, more than 2.86 million people have benefited from the services provided. Volunteer medical professionals treat life threatening tumours, cleft lip and palate repairs, reconstructive plastic surgeries 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.


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 noma 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
  • Breastfeeding
  • Nutrition
  • Provide support
  • Emotional
  • Medical/financial
  • Provide supplies
  • Formula
  • Feeding supplies
  • BenniMix


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 improve the quality of life of patients and their families facing the difficulties associated with life threatening illness.

Often, people who request surgical or medical help from Mercy Ships are unable to receive assistance because of inoperable and terminal conditions. Many of these people are physically suffering from incurable diseases as well as dealing with rejection, misunderstanding, and fear by their friends, families, and communities. There are few, if any, groups within the community that provide counseling, support, and end-of-life care to grieving families.

The Mercy Ships Palliative Care Team desires to compassionately serve those who cannot be helped by the organization’s surgical professionals. Physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs are addressed by the team’s medical and counseling staff.



Mercy Ships works with host nations to strengthen the local healthcare system, while providing direct medical care to patients with an unmet surgical need.

Mercy Ships provides a variety of training opportunities for medical professionals (surgeons, nurses, anaesthesia providers, administrators, and other healthcare workers). Collaborating with qualified local and international partners, Mercy Ships programmes offer holistic support to host countries, striving to make healthcare accessible for all.


Mercy Ships works with partners and stakeholders to develop capacity building projects that improve the quality of services across an entire hospital setting, from strengthening technical skills and human capital, to improving working conditions and quality of care.


The Mercy Ships healthcare training programmes aim to enhance the standards of care within the surgical ecosystem in partner hospitals or other healthcare institutions. Mercy Ships offers a combination of mentoring and courses to various healthcare workers in a particular hospital or specialty unit, creating a Partnership Unit Mentoring Programme (PUMP).


Hospitals, clinics, and primary healthcare facilities in low and middle-income countries often cannot meet the healthcare needs of the local population. Ageing and poorly maintained infrastructure hamper the work of healthcare providers. By refurbishing and redeveloping healthcare facilities alongside Mercy Ships training projects, Mercy Ships can partner with host countries to support their improved healthcare.


Mercy Ships recognizes that people need more than just access to healthcare. They need access to food and nutrition. To help address these issues in host countries, Mercy Ships has been implementing Food for Life programmes since 1997. Food for Life projects impact lives by training people how to sustainably produce nutritional food and crops.


Mercy Ships focuses on ensuring healthcare facilities have appropriate water and sanitation services sufficient to ensure the delivery of proper healthcare. In support of that aim, Mercy Ships incorporates water and sanitation service upgrades within projects at partner hospitals.

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