Mercy Ships - Working to Change the Odds

Post by: Dee White
09 May 2019

Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of Mercy Ships. Then I went to a coffee morning in aid of this incredible charity which deploys hospital ships to some of the poorest countries in the world, delivering vital, free healthcare to people in desperate need.

How do they work?

  • They give direct medical care and surgery to local people, offering free surgeries on their hospital ship.
  • They train and mentor local health professionals, renovate hospitals and clinics and donate medical tools and equipment.
  • They improve healthcare infrastructure, advising governments on healthcare policy.

In each country in which it works Mercy Ships’ Africa Mercy stays for around 10 months, assessing and treating local people, as well as delivering a customised five-year partnership model. Relationships are built with the national government and ministry of health, so that the individual needs of each country are met. In this way it aims to tackle the root causes of the health problems rather than just the consequences, so instead of just addressing the immediate need on the ground, it works to strengthen each country’s healthcare system and promote policy change.

Why are they needed?

“More than 17 million people die every year from conditions requiring surgical care”.

But in many low-income countries, surgery is just not an option either because it doesn’t exist or it is completely inaccessible. Mercy Ships’ “floating hospital”, the Africa Mercy, provides free, safe surgery, transforming thousands of lives in some of the world’s least-developed countries. In these third world countries, countless people suffer and die from “diseases of poverty” that can easily be cured by simple treatment.

The ship is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, who give their expertise to help treat conditions such as dental and eye problems, cleft lips and palates, tumours, club feet, childbirth injuries, burns and many more.

How did it start?

Mercy Ships was founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens. It has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at over £1 billion, to people of all faiths and none, “bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor”. It has trained and mentored more than 40,800 local professionals and taught more than 6,000 health workers how to train others.

Lives Transformed

These are just a few of the lives that have been transformed with the help of Mercy Ships.

  • In Cameroon a 3 month old baby could not feed properly and weighed just 4 pounds 4 ounces. His mother could not understand why he was not putting on any weight, he cried constantly and his skin was paper-thin. On board the hospital ship he was diagnosed as having a cleft lip and palate. He was fed with a syringe and then a special bottle and gradually he began to put on weight, his hair grew thick and healthy and his listless eyes became full of life. Three months later he had surgery on his lip and palate which would transform his future.

  • A nine year old girl was born with legs that looked normal, but as they grew they curved out of shape and could no longer hold her upright. Local doctors massaged them and said she lacked calcium but that there was nothing else they could do. Fortunately the family heard about a local patient screening where she was examined by the Mercy Ships team and referred for treatment. A series of complex orthopaedic surgeries were performed, correcting the twisted upper and lower legs by rotating her bones and pinning her knees and hips in alignment. Now, through the surgery, physiotherapy and her amazing determination and strength, the little girl can walk again, balance on one leg and stand on tiptoes.

  • Another nine year old girl was gradually going blind because of severe cataracts. She had to withdraw from school, which she loved and be taught at home. Her mother saved up for three years in the hope that her daughter’s sight could be saved, even though that would leave the family in severe debt. Fortunately Mercy Ships sailed into Cameroon and was able to perform a 20 minute operation which restored the girl’s sight. Just over two weeks later she was packing her school bag and putting on her uniform for her first day back at school.

Mercy Ships is currently focused on sub-Saharan Africa. From August 2018 Africa Mercy has been in the port of Conakry, Guinea, providing over 2,000 surgeries on board, treating more than 8,000 patients at a land-based dental clinic and providing training and mentoring to local healthcare professionals.

Before this it was working in Madagascar for 10 months in 2015/16, Cotonou in Benin during 2017 and Cameroon up to June 2018.

It has amazed me to read about the vast number of surgical procedures, dental treatments, training and mentoring work and renovation of buildings and facilities that the team are able to achieve in just one 10-month period. Long may they continue to work in the deprived areas of our world.

For more information please visit the Mercy Ships website.