Mercy Ships is a global charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978, bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor by mobilising people and resources worldwide, serving all people without regard for race, gender or religion.
A dream that began in a young man’s heart has become reality — a big, white, state-of-the-art hospital ship that delivers hope and healing to people around the globe living in dire circumstances.
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development aid to those without access in the developing world. Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1.66 billion, with more than 2.77 million direct beneficiaries. Each year, more than 1,000 volunteers from over 40 nations serve with Mercy Ships. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and support staff donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time.
In many developing countries in Africa, even basic medical care is a luxury. People are plagued by preventable disease, untreated illnesses and neglected injuries. Even a simple toothache can become a life-threatening crisis. Nearly 50 percent of the people have no access to a hospital or doctor. Children, teens, adults and the elderly suffer and die every day from curable or treatable causes. A staggering 6.6 million children under the age of five died in 2012 from treatable diseases – more than 18,000 children per day. (Source: WHO). The challenge is enormous but with your help we can save lives.
For more than 40 years, Mercy Ships and our volunteers have followed the model of Jesus to bring hope and healing to the world’s poor one life, one community and one nation at at time. Mercy Ships and its volunteers treat life-threatening tumours, cleft lip and palate repairs, plastic reconstruction 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.
According to the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, more than 18 million people die each year from conditions requiring surgical care. As a result, people suffer and die from “diseases of poverty” that can easily be cured through surgical intervention.
Mercy Ships tackles these diseases of poverty through three steps:
1. Offering direct medical care and surgery to local people.
2. Training and mentoring local health professionals.
3. Improving health care infrastructure.
To achieve this, Mercy Ships delivers a customised five-year partnership model with every country it is invited to support.
Phase 1. Protocol Signing: Sierra Leone
Mercy Ships listens, builds relationships and collaborates with the Presidential Office, Ministry of Health, other departments of the government, and NGOs. A collaborative effort has an increased impact. A protocol of commitment is signed, taking into account World Health Organisation targets.
Phase 2. Assessing the Need: Liberia
An analysis of capacity needs within the local health care system is undertaken, establishing where assistance will be most effective. Assessment teams examine surgical and ancillary service capacity, port, security, and builds connections with key stakeholders. An Advance Team will enhance the effectiveness of the ship deployment by preparing for ship arrival.
Phase 3. Ship Deployment: Senegal
For 10 months, a Mercy Ship is docked in the host nation’s port, providing free surgical and dental care for thousands of people, training for local health care workers, renovations for local facilities and more.
Phase 4. Training & Support: Guinea
Project implementers return to provide additional instruction, learn about challenges faced by local health care professionals implementing learned materials and skills, and provide encouragement and additional input.
Phase 5. Impact Evaluation: Cameroon
Teams return to learn how Mercy Ships work changed the lives of patients and trained health care professionals, and what was sustained from hospital and clinic improvement. Lessons are learned and used to inform future field services.
Mercy Ships began sailing on our mission to provide hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor in 1978. Each year, we’ve been able to reach more people to provide life-changing surgeries.
In 2019, 1,819 free life-changing surgeries were performed, as well 28,556 dental procedures. Every port brings new challenges, new successes, and new lives transformed forever.
The challenge is enormous but each day we are making a difference as we provide surgical and health care solutions. Find out more about our areas of surgical and health care focus.
Mercy Ships delivers life changing surgical and medical care and partners with local communities to help them to help themselves. With your generous help we have achieved the following results.
Direct Medical Beneficiaries
Village Patients Treated with Medical and Dental Procedures
Life-Changing Surgeries Performed
Health Care Professionals Trained in Their Field of Expertise
Health Care Professionals Trained to Train Others
Community Development Projects Completed
Developing Nations Visited
Our Hospital Ships
What makes Mercy Ships different is that we use a unique platform – a ship – to bring world-class medical care to the poorest nations of the world. Because over 50% of the world’s population lives within 160 kilometres of the coast, we’re able to sail a modern hospital ship with a crew of 400 volunteers directly to people who lack access. A ship gives us a number of advantages including:
– The ability to provide our services to millions who live in those areas of the globe that are difficult to access in normal circumstances allowing thousands to experience the same kind of medical care available to those of us who live in the West.
– Our staff work and are accommodated in a secure environment.
– In the unfortunate event of civil unrest, both staff and the self-contained hospital can be evacuated quickly to move onto the next assignment without loss of investment or capabilities.
Find out more about our current flagship, the Africa Mercy, our new Mercy Ship, and our other ships, now retired, that have brought hope, healing and renewed health to thousands.
Every patient has a name, a face, and a story and Mercy Ships transforms their lives by providing free surgery and medical care.
Mercy Ships was founded by Don and Deyon Stephens
Surviving the devastation wreaked by a tropical hurricane and witnessing the human suffering it left in its trail inspired Don Stephens to set up a hospital ship for the world’s most vulnerable people.
In 1964, 19-year-old Don was visiting the Bahamas as part of a youth group when Hurricane Cleo swept through the region, in what was a one-in-a-hundred year storm. Don’s youth group took shelter in an aircraft hangar, but others were not so fortunate with Cleo claiming lives and destroying hundreds of homes. In the aftermath of the storm, he was struck by the words of suffering local people who pleaded for a hospital ship to treat their injured and provide urgently needed medicines.
“The hearing of it challenged me,’’ said Don.
It took years for this idea to reach fruition, but in 1978 Don’s goal became reality when he and fellow fundraisers paid $1 million US for the Victoria, a former cruise liner, and work began to convert her to a hospital ship. In 1982, the vessel, refitted with three operating theatres and a 40-bed ward, sailed as the Anastasis – the first Mercy Ship.
Since then, four ships, including the current vessel, the Africa Mercy, have served in 150 ports throughout developing nations, bringing hope, relief and healing to the most vulnerable people.
For Don, Mercy Ships has become a lifelong driving force. He and Deyon spendt ten years living on board the first Mercy Ship with their family before relocating to the International Operations Centre in Texas. Their inspiring work has brought them awards and honours. Don received the Two Hungers Award and the Religious Heritage Award and in 2009 he and Deyon were honoured with the Variety Club International Humanitarian Award. Don is also a Paul Harris Fellow through Rotary. He has written three books about Mercy Ships and is the voice behind the Mercy Minute, a daily radio broadcast aired internationally.
You can watch a short video of our history below.
Our Corporate Partners
Mercy Ships works closely with our Australian and International corporate partners who provide product in kind and funds so we can provide life-transforming surgeries and medical treatment.
Mercy Ships Australia is a charity registered in Australia with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and governed by the Australian Board. The Australian Office, based in Caloundra, Queensland, is part of a global network of offices whose mission is to promote the important work of Mercy Ships and undertake volunteer recruitment, fundraising, and procurement of materials and services.
Our Board of Directors consists of dedicated elected members who govern Mercy Ships Australia and Mercy Ships Australia Relief Fund.
Managing Director, Mercy Ships Australia
Richard Wankmuller, BSCE, MSCE
Chairman, Mercy Ships Australia
CEO, Inland Rail
Karen Binns, Bsc (Anaesthesiology)
Deputy Chair, Mercy Ships Australia
Regional Manager, Commonwealth Bank (retired)
Human Resources Consultant, Self-Employed
Personalisation Enablement, Westpac
Vice President of Marketing, Mercy Ships
Margo Hartley OAM
Our Australian Co-Founder
Our Advisory Council
Founder and Director, Redstone
Personalisation Enablement, Westpac
Founder and Director, Jackson & Associates
Our experienced staff and volunteers are always here to help you if you would like more information on donating, volunteering or helping us in some way to make a difference to the forgotten poor.
National Office & Volunteer Relations