Hope Floats: How Mercy Ships Brings Care to Those in Need

Close to half of the global population lacks access to basic medical care, according to the World Health Organization. The high cost of healthcare is pushing nearly 100 million people into poverty. Many countries don’t have the resources or infrastructure to treat common diseases, including everything from birth defects to infectious diseases like AIDS and the Coronavirus.

Mercy Ships, a Texas based non-profit organization, is focused on bringing urgent medical care to underserved countries. The organization uses one giant passenger ship at a time as a floating hospital that travels from port to port, providing medical assistance to developing nations. With almost 50% of the world’s population living within 100 miles of coastlines, this is one of the most effective ways to bring urgent care to underserved communities.  

If you’re looking for some adventure and a way to give to those in need, learn more about Mercy Ships and this exciting volunteer opportunity.

The Ship of Dreams

Providing care to developing nations isn’t easy. These areas typically lack the infrastructure to care for the local population. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are only two physicians per 10,000 people. These medical facilities often lack the technology or resources to keep patients safe from disease.

Instead of building a network of hospitals and temporary urgent care centers from scratch, Mercy Ships operates a self-contained floating hospital and training center. As soon as the ship arrives in a local port, the providers on board start treating patients immediately. Those seeking care can enjoy instant access to safe, sterile operating rooms and hospital beds, reducing the risk of infection.

All the providers onboard are trained medical professionals. They volunteer their time and expertise while paying for their own expenses. The organization attracts talent from all over the world, creating a diverse workforce with unique skill sets. While many nurses speak several different languages, all providers must be able to understand and speak English.

In addition to providing life-saving surgeries and routine medical care, Mercy Ships is building a foundation for the future of medicine. Every time the ship docks at a new port, the crew trains local physicians and providers on how to perform safe, effective surgeries. They also donate equipment and other supplies to local health systems, so patients can still get the care they need after the ship leaves the port.

The Africa Mercy contains close to 400 crew members and providers. They need more providers and resources to operate multiple vessels simultaneously.

Over the organization’s 40-year history, many vessels have come and gone. The crew used to operate out of an 80-person ship that would operate in the Carribean Basin. Today, the group mainly uses the Africa Mercy, known as the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world. This ship more than doubles their capacity to provide medical care compared to their earlier vessels. With a crew capacity of 474, Mercy Ships now has the resources to care for more patients than ever before.

The Global Mercy, a more modern vessel is currently under construction. With another ship at their disposal, the organization will more than double their operations across the globe.

As of today, Mercy Ships has performed over 100,000 surgical procedures, trained over 43,000 medical professionals, and impacted around 2 million lives.

How You Can Help

There are so many ways to get involved with Mercy Ships. The group is always looking for donations that support the crew and the ship they call home. You can donate directly to the organization or set up a recurring monthly gift, if you’re feeling generous. Providers must pay for their own expenses aboard the Africa Mercy, but you can also donate directly to individual providers working on the ship.

If you decide to volunteer as a medical professional, you will be in for the adventure of a lifetime. You will join dozens of other nurses and providers on the high seas as you travel throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Crew members are free to volunteer anywhere between 2 weeks and 2 years. It all depends on how much time you want to give.

Stories of Hope

Mercy Ships is full of amazing stories that will motivate you to volunteer.

At just five years old, Benessa was suffering from a large tumor growing on her face. Her parents wanted the best for her, but as the years went on, the tumor started to dislocate her eye. Other children would often tease her or avoid playing with her due to her appearance. Her mother found a spark of hope when she heard the news that Mercy Ships was docking nearby.

The family traveled hours to the coast in hopes of having their daughter see a doctor. Once they got on board, a volunteer surgeon removed the tumor. After a speedy recovery, Benessa soon found the confidence and joy she was lacking. Reflecting on the experience, her mother said, “When we came to the ship for the first time, I was just thanking God over and over. There is no gift greater than good health.”

If you decide to volunteer, you will see new parts of the world and connect with patients that urgently need your skills. Visit Mercy Ships to learn more about what you can expect from this exciting volunteer opportunity.  

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