Logo of Mercy Ships
|Motto||Bringing Hope and Healing|
|Founder||Donald & Deyon Stephens|
|Purpose||To provide free healthcare and improve healthcare delivery systems in the poorest nations|
|Services||Surgery, Healthcare, Development|
|Myron E. Ullman III|
|c. 1,600 annually|
Mercy Ships is an international charity. Mercy Ships currently operates the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, providing humanitarian aid like free health care, community development projects, community health education, mental health programs, agriculture projects, and palliative care for terminally ill patients.
The organization has its International Support Center (ISC) in Garden Valley, Texas. Mercy Ships also has 16 national resource offices in countries that include Spain, Britain, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, France, Korea, Denmark, Belgium, New Zealand, Sweden and Norway.
A major inspiration for Mercy Ships president and founder Don Stephens was the work of the international hospital ship SS Hope. Stephens' research showed that 95 of the 100 largest cities in the world were port cities. Therefore, a hospital ship could deliver healthcare very efficiently to large numbers of people. The birth of Stephens' disabled son, John Paul, also inspired him to move forward with his vision of a floating hospital. A visit with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, further deepened his commitment to serving the world's neediest people.
Mercy Ships was founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens. It has outfitted and operated a total of four hospital ships to serve developing nations since 1978. Originally, it was a part of the YWAM (Youth with a Mission) family of Christian ministries, before becoming a standalone organization in 2003. The organization uses retired ocean liners and ferries that have been transformed into floating hospitals.
The first ocean liner acquired was the Victoria, which was purchased for its scrap value of US$1 million. The nine-deck vessel was transformed into the hospital ship MV Anastasis over a four-year period. The 522-foot ship was equipped with three operating rooms, a dental clinic, an x-ray machine, a laboratory and 40 patient beds. The ship's 350-member crew included Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens, who lived on board the ship with their four young children for ten years.
In 1983, the Anastasis (the Greek word for "resurrection") began operations in the South Pacific, then moved to Central America and the Caribbean Sea in the mid-80s. The ship moved on to Africa in 1991 and remained in service there until 2007. The final port of call for the Anastasis was Monrovia, Liberia.
Mercy Ships purchased the Norwegian coastal ferry Polarlys in 1994 and transformed it into the MV Caribbean Mercy, a hospital ship serving Central American and Caribbean ports. The ship offered berths for 150 crew and was equipped initially for field medical clinics. Over the course of several years, the ship was equipped with modern eye-surgery capabilities. The first eye surgery was performed on board the Caribbean Mercy in early 1997, while the ship was docked in Guatemala. On land, volunteers from the Caribbean Mercy also provided dental, orthopedic and healthcare services. The Caribbean Mercy visited 138 ports of call and remained in service until May 2005.
In 1983, the Canadian ferry Petite Forte was donated to Mercy Ships to provide relief operations in the Caribbean. Initially christened the Good Samaritan, the ship was re-christened the MV Island Mercy in 1994. The 60-berth vessel remained in service until spring of 2001. The countries it served included Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Haiti. The ship also reached beyond the Caribbean with relief and medical operations in Guinea-Bissau, Western Samoa, the Tokelau Islands and New Zealand.
Since 2000 Mercy Ships has the 16,500-ton flagship Africa Mercy, which measures almost 500 feet long. The Africa Mercy has greater capacity than all three previous Mercy Ships combined. A second, purpose-built hospital ship, the Global Mercy, is currently under construction. In May 2007, the Africa Mercy sailed into the port in Monrovia to meet up with the Anastasis, enabling crew, equipment and supplies to be transferred from the oldest Mercy Ship to the newest one.
The Africa Mercy, the only current Mercy Ship, in 2007 made its official maiden voyage to Monrovia, Liberia, from the shipyard in England. In 2008, the Africa Mercy continued its service to Liberia—offering free surgeries, assistance in healthcare infrastructure development, and community-based preventive health care programs that benefited thousands of individuals and many communities. More than 1,200 surgical procedures and 10,000 dental procedures were completed, along with community health projects such as HIV/AIDS prevention and construction of wells and latrines.
Early in 2010, the ship was docked in Lomé, Togo for the 2010 field service. In August 2010, the Africa Mercy went into shipyard in South Africa, where it was equipped with new, more efficient generators. In 2009, the ship was docked in Cotonou, Benin from February to December, providing free surgeries and medical care. Mercy Ships also worked with Beninese citizens on agriculture and water development projects on the ground in Benin. Before the Africa Mercy arrives in port, flyers are distributed to alert the public to the ship's upcoming visit. An advance team begins a massive screening of thousands of prospective patients, to see which men, women and children qualify for a surgery. It is common for people to walk for days (and even from neighboring countries) to find out whether they may be eligible for surgical treatment.
The Africa Mercy is currently docked in Conakry, Guinea where the field service will last from August 2018 through June 2019. The summer was spent in the Canary Islands for its annual maintenance period. Prior to that, the volunteer crew completed a field service in Douala, Cameroon which lasted from August 2017 through June 2018. Prior to that, the Africa Mercy served in the port of Cotonou, Benin August 2016 to the summer of 2017. The summer of 2016 was spent completing dry dock and annual maintenance in Durban, South Africa. The ship was previously docked in Toamasina, Madagascar from October 2014 through June 2016, for two field services. Before that, the ship served in Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo from August 2013 till May 2014. Before The Republic of Congo the vessel was docked in Conakry, Guinea and Lomé, Togo. The Africa Mercy docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone for its 2011 field service, which lasted for ten months. At the conclusion of each field service, the Africa Mercy goes into dry dock, where it is resupplied and receives any needed repairs or upgrades before heading to its next port of call.
Mercy Ships is a predominantly Christian interdenominational missionary organization, describing their mission as "bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor, following the 2000-year-old model of Jesus". The organization treats all patients free of charge, and without regard to their religion, race or gender.
Mercy Ships vessels have visited 594 ports, covering 56 developing nations. Its volunteers have provided services and materials in developing countries valued at over $1.53 billion. Mercy Ships has delivered services to more than 2.71 million direct beneficiaries and Mercy Ships volunteers have performed more than 95,000 free operations, such as cleft lip and palate, cataract removal, straightening of crossed eyes, and orthopedic and facial reconstruction. They have:
- Performed 448,000 dental procedures for over 175,000 dental patients.
- Trained more than 6,315 local professionals (including surgeons), who have in turn trained many others
- Trained over 42,250 local professionals in their area of expertise (anesthesiology, midwifery, sterilization, orthopedic and reconstructive surgery, leadership)
- Taught over 239,000 local people in basic healthcare.
- Completed over 1,110 infrastructure development and agriculture projects
Mercy Ships is a Better Business Bureau accredited charity. Mercy Ships has built a broad base of financial support, beginning with donations from the public and from crew members. Medical companies donate pharmaceuticals, equipment and supplies to Mercy Ships. Corporations also make in-kind donations of materials such as fuel, food and building supplies. In addition, governments that work with Mercy Ships typically waive or cover port fees and associated costs for the ship to dock.
In 1991, the government of Togo became the first African nation to invite the Mercy Ship Anastasis to dock and provide free surgical care. The 2012 Field Service in Lomé, Togo, marked the fifth visit of Mercy Ships to the West African country. During the five-month stay in port, the ship's volunteer medical crew provided free surgeries, free dental procedures and trained local healthcare representatives. Mercy Ships also renovated portions of the Be-Kpota Anfamé Clinic in Lomé to serve as its 40-bed HOPE (Hospital Out-Patient Extension) Center for post-surgical recovery, which was returned to use as a Ministry of Health Clinic when the Africa Mercy departed.
Mercy Ships vessels have visited Sierra Leone five times, beginning in 1992. Mercy Ships has tailored its work in Sierra Leone to support the country's National Health Sector Strategic Plan, which aims to strengthen the national health system.
In December 2011, Mercy Ships signed on as a full partner to a Health Agreement with Sierra Leone, focusing on improving the country's principal hospitals. The agreement calls for Mercy Ships to focus on upgrading medical and surgical services, patient recordkeeping and the physical conditions of hospital buildings and infrastructure.
The organization's partner in Sierra Leone is the Aberdeen Women's Centre, formerly the Aberdeen West Africa Fistula Center. The Aberdeen Women's Centre is one of the few locations on the African continent offering obstetric fistula repair for women who have been injured during childbirth. Started by Mercy Ships with the Ministry of Health, Addax Foundation and other partners, the Fistula Centre is now operated by the Gloag Foundation (UK).
The Mercy Ships 2012 field service in Conakry marked the third visit by a Mercy Ship to Guinea, which was also visited by the earlier Mercy Ship Anastasis (now retired). Mercy Ships partnered with the country's Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene and other organizations to improve the country' health care delivery system. A special outreach was made to ensure that many patients from remote areas of the country were able to be screened for treatable conditions. In August 2018 Mercy Ships arrived in Conakry for the fourth time and stayed there for a ten-month mission.
Republic of Congo
The Mercy Ships 2013 field service in Pointe Noire marked the first visit by a Mercy Ship to the Republic of Congo. Mercy Ships partnered with the country's Ministry of Health, and programs addressed requests by the authorities in Congo-Brazzaville to support continuing education opportunities for practicing professionals. Those included mentoring and training in nursing, anesthesiology, infection control, cataract removal surgery, basic surgical skills, trauma care, newborn resuscitation, palliative care, midwifery, and community health education. Mercy Ships partnered with local hospital infrastructures to help improve quality of care, teamwork and communication.
The 2015–2016 field service was the third Mercy Ships visit to Madagascar, located off the southeastern coast of Africa. Madagascar is the world's fourth-largest island nation. A political crisis in recent years has hampered the nation's ability to meet a number of millennium development goals and has taken a heavy toll on Madagascar's economy and people. According to the office of the President of Madagascar, there was a clear and important need for the expertise Mercy Ships brought to the nation, both in terms of specialized surgical and medical care as well as healthcare training and capacity building.
The 2016–2017 field service of the Africa Mercy took place in Cotonou, Benin where the hospital ship docked from August 2016 through to June 2017. During the Africa Mercy’s 10-month stay in the port of Cotonou, Mercy Ships provided over 1,793 free life-changing surgeries for adult and child patients on board. The volunteer crew treated 6,942 people at a land-based dental clinic, mentored 88 Beninese healthcare professionals and trained 1,874 participants in medical capacity building courses such as Essential Surgical Skills, Primary Trauma, Safe Anesthesia and more.
The 2017–2018 field service of the Africa Mercy was completed in June 2018. During this port stay, Mercy Ships provided more than 2,508 life-changing surgeries for adult and child patients on board, treated more than 9,000 at a land-based dental clinic, and provided capacity building medical training courses to 1,475 Cameroonian healthcare professionals. These courses included SAFE Obstetric Anesthesia, SAFE Pediatric Anesthesia, Essential Surgical Skills, Primary Trauma Care and others. Additionally, 89 Cameroonian medical professionals were mentored including surgeons, nurses, anesthesia providers and healthcare workers.
The 2018–2019 field service of the Africa Mercy took place in Conakry, Guinea from August 2018 through June 2019. During the Africa Mercy's 10-month stay in Guinea, Mercy Ships provided 2.230 patients with 2,442 specialized surgeries. The off-ship dental clinic treated 7,937 patients who received over 41,000 dental procedures. The medical capacity building program trained 1099 participants in courses including primary trauma care, essential surgical skills and more, while 155 anesthesia providers, nurses, surgeons and other healthcare professionals participated in a mentoring program.
Medical personnel on the Africa Mercy provide surgeries and healthcare to treat a wide range of problems, including cleft lip and palate, cataract, crossed eyes (strabismus), bowed legs (genu varum), burns and burn scars, dental problems and obstetric fistula repair for injuries sustained during childbirth. Many of these ailments are extremely severe because patients have had little prior access to medical care. In addition, people with disfiguring medical conditions have often been shunned by their communities, so medical treatment from Mercy Ships can also help relieve the stigma and isolation that they have experienced.
The lower deck of the Africa Mercy is equipped with five operating theaters, 82-bed recovery wards, a CT scanner, an X-ray machine and a laboratory. During its two field services to Toamasina, Madagascar between October 2014 to June 2016, the volunteer crew of the Africa Mercy performed 2,951 free surgeries, had 137 participants in the Medical Capacity Building Mentoring program which included surgeons, doctor and nurse anesthetists, lab and sterile technicians, Ward, OR and ER nurses and a dentist. Mercy Ships Medical Capacity Building courses taught 1,882 health care professionals participants in internationally recognized training that included SAFE Obstetric Anesthesia, SAFE Pediatric Anesthesia, WHO Surgical Safety Checklist, Ponseti Method, Essential Surgical Skills, Essential Pain Management, Glaucoma, Mental Health, Dental, Biomedical and Primary Trauma Care. The dental clinics provided 49,577 free dental care procedures for tooth decay and infections, provided clinical dental hygiene services on 2,277 patients, provided dentures for 543 patients, for a total of 12,688 unique dental patients. In addition, Mercy Ships increased health care delivery systems by renovating in-country hospital facilities.
On the upper decks of the Africa Mercy, the ship has 126 cabins that provide accommodations for more than 400 crew, including families, couples and individuals. The ship is equipped with a day care center, an accredited academy for all grades through senior year of high school, a library, a launderette, a shop for groceries and sundries, a restaurant, a gymnasium, and a donated Starbucks cafe. A fleet of 28 vehicles travels with the ship, for use in Mercy Ships land-based operations.
Expanding medical capacity
In addition to providing free surgical, medical and dental care, Mercy Ships is committed to investing in local healthcare infrastructure in ways that will continue to have a positive impact long after the ship leaves port. By developing medical facilities on land and training local personnel, Mercy Ships ensures that increased medical care can be provided after the Africa Mercy departs from its host country.
In the 2014–2016 field services in Toamasina, Madagascar, Mercy Ships renovated buildings at Hospital Kelly and CHUT. Renovations were completed of an operating block (4 theatres), large ward building, biomedical/Ponseti/physical therapy building, allied health and nursing, training facility and septic/sewerage system, water distribution system, roads and sidewalks at the local CHUT hospital.
Additionally, Mercy Ships volunteers had 137 participants in the Medical Capacity Building Mentoring program which included surgeons, doctor and nurse anesthetists, lab and sterile technicians, Ward, OR and ER nurses and a dentist. Mercy Ships Medical Capacity Building courses taught 1,882 health care professionals participants in internationally recognized training that included SAFE Obstetric Anesthesia, SAFE Pediatric Anesthesia, WHO Surgical Safety Checklist, Ponseti Method, Essential Surgical Skills, Essential Pain Management, Glaucoma, Mental Health, Dental, Biomedical and Primary Trauma Care.
The agricultural training program worked at a site near the capital where Mercy Ships volunteers trained 56 agricultural trainers during two 21-week courses in organic farming and food preservation techniques to help communities to achieve sustainable food production. They trained 34 orphanage workers and community farmers during two practical courses in Toliara. 464 community leaders were taught during two leadership courses. In addition to medical and surgical care, agriculture training and infrastructure projects are an important component of the ship's mandate.
In the 2013–2014 field service in the Republic of Congo, Mercy Ships renovated building at the Loandijili General Hospital and the Caritas compound.
In the 2012–2013 field service, Mercy Ships renovated portions of the Be-Kpota Anfamé Clinic in Lomé, Togo and a wing of the Ignace Deen Hospital in Conakry, Guinea.
In Sierra Leone during its 2011 Field Service, Mercy Ships donated three modular buildings to Rokupa Government Hospital in Freetown, providing a new Tuberculosis, Leprosy and HIV Outpatient Department, a Cholera Treatment Centre, offices and storage space. Mercy Ships also donated a drill rig to Living Water Sierra Leone, a Mercy Ships partner that provides shallow well drilling, pump repair and hygiene education.
During its 2010 Field Service in Lomé, Togo, Mercy Ships extensively renovated a clinic to create a Hospital Out-Patient (HOPE) Center for Mercy Ships patients recovering from surgery. When the Africa Mercy departed from Togo, the updated facility became a clinic for the Ministry of Health.
The volunteer crew of the Africa Mercy is made up of more than 400 volunteers from more than 45 nations.
- Annually Mercy Ships has more than 1,600 volunteers helping in locations around the world. That includes more than 900 volunteers from 45 nations serving each year in Africa with 400 of those on board the Africa Mercy at any given time. About 200 Africans also serve as day crew on the ship. In addition to the medical volunteers on the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships also sends medical crews to aid at natural disaster sites such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Mercy Ships offers short-term (two weeks to two years) and long-term (minimum two years) volunteer opportunities. Mercy Ships needs volunteers for both medical and non-medical jobs. Due to the nature of the ship, positions for surgeons, dentists, and nurses are often readily available, but jobs such as deckhands, carpenters, seamen, teachers, cooks, engineers, machinists, welders, plumbers, videographers, photographers, writers, electricians and agriculturalists are also available. Volunteer crew often serve as blood donors, since there is a high demand for donated blood due to limited space to maintain a blood bank on board.
Volunteers with Mercy Ships are responsible for paying all costs associated with their service, including crew fees, travel expenses, passports, immunizations, insurance and personal expenses. Because of this commitment, Mercy Ships is able to use direct contributions from its supporters to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.
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