Mercy Ships: Hope on the High Seas

June 24, 2016 | by SeeMore
Mercy Ships - Africa Mercy

In 1978 a man’s dream of building a hospital ship became a reality and an organization was born which would change millions of lives.

Don Stephens, founder of medical charity Mercy Ships, was inspired by the work of the hospital ship SS Hope. After partnering with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and overcoming many obstacles, Mercy Ships became more than just an idea and the first ship, the Anastasis was born.  Ninety-five of the one-hundred largest cities in the world are port cities and a ship is the most efficient platform to deliver a state-of-the-art hospital to regions where clean water, electricity, medical facilities and personnel is limited or nonexistent. 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 further deepened his commitment to serving the world’s neediest people.

With the help of mainly individual donors and volunteers around the world, Mercy Ships provides free transformational surgeries and training in developing nations.

On a short and long-term basis, volunteers give their time and skills to offer a level of adequate health care that is inaccessible to the world’s poor. The current Mercy Ships vessel, the Africa Mercy, is equipped with five state-of-the-art operating rooms and is a fully modern hospital specializing in maxillofacial, reconstructive, plastics, orthopaedic, ophthalmic, dental and obstetric fistula surgeries. The ship’s crew spend an average of 10 months in each country visited. Activities include screening hundreds of patients, performing medical procedures, provision of post-operative care, training local health care professionals, and support for community development projects. The Africa Mercy is home to 400 international volunteers.

Healing continues long after the ship departs

Mercy Ships seeks to leave the host nation better equipped with the training, tools, and infrastructure to care for their own. Mercy Ships offers specialized training to local healthcare professionals—surgeons, nurses, doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists, midwives, and community health workers—in techniques and procedures appropriate for their environments.

Mercy Ships’ most recent Ultrasound Course took place in 2014 during their field service in Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo

Over five days in a classroom setting, participants were taught to use ultrasoMercy Ships | Ultrasound Courseund equipment as a diagnostic tool and for obstetric observation. The participants were comprised of local ultrasound technicians and healthcare workers, and Instructors lectured for two hours in the mornings and also oversaw one hour of practical application. The ability to use ultrasound techniques as a diagnostic method is a valuable skill in developing nations.  The course increased healthcare worker’s abilities to assess potential abnormalities and medical conditions using scanning devices available in their nation.

Day 2 focused on obstetric/fetal ultrasound  

In speaking with the participants while scanning an expectant mother and her unborn child, the instructors learned that the midwives and obstetricians automatically send the mother for a cesarean section when they observe a certain deterioration of the placenta in the third trimester of pregnancy.  However, this type of deterioration of the placenta is actually normal and the instructors were able to convey this information to all of the obstetric staff present.  They seemed surprised but as they absorbed the information they discussed why the standard procedure existed, and how to potentially improve it going forward.

Day 4 focused on vasculMercy Ships | Ultrasound Coursear ultrasound

A patient was brought in who had been hit by a car months before and was complaining of knee pain.  The local nurses were uncertain about the mass behind his knee.  The patient was scanned by the physician from that hospital and assisted by the instructors of this course.  After scanning, the mass was determined not to be a lipoma but a collection a fluid attached to the joint.  The instructors moved the patient from the conference room to a treatment room in the hospital and assisted the resident physician, via ultrasound, to place the needle and aspirate the fluid for further testing.  Had the instructors not been present to assist with the ultrasound machine, the patient may not have received a definitive diagnosis or care.

Sustainable health care requires a plan

Mercy Ships’ Capacity-Building programs such as the Ultrasound Course identify local needs and work closely with local governments to establish initiatives that make a lasting difference, to leave a legacy that extends for years—and even generations, training and mentoring local professionals. Mercy Ships will spend the 2016-2017 field service in Benin, West Africa. For more information on Mercy Ships and how to volunteer visit

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