Wednesday 16 May 2018: Ivan Whitehead has made the move to the Sunshine Coast after three weeks in Africa volunteering on board the world’s largest independent hospital ship.

Mr Whitehead said he had always wanted to volunteer overseas and became inspired to serve with Mercy Ships, the international charity that operates the Africa Mercy, after seeing several television programs about the ship and its crew of volunteers from around the word.

He joined Mercy Ships in late March, serving as an anaesthetic assistant during the free surgeries provided on board.

“From Australia there is no easy way to Africa; no matter which route you take to get to Douala it will be 20-plus hours of flying,” Mr Whitehead said.

But the immense satisfaction of being part of the life-changing operations performed overshadowed any jet lag.

“The work of Mercy Ships is very important to me, and the patients more importantly.”

“They face a lack of services and finances to have surgery.”

The Africa Mercy docked in the port city of Douala, Cameroon, in August 2017 with plans to provide almost 4,000 thousand life-changing surgeries on board, to treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic as well as providing health care training to local medical professionals during its ten-month stay.

Having grown up in country Victoria, Mr Whitehead has worked in Western Australia as well as Cairns and also found himself working in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War.

“It was truly by being there when the war happened,” he said.

Still, his knowledge of Arabic came in handy on board with several patients who spoke the language.

“Everyone has given me great support and since my return I have been besieged by fellow staff about my experience.”

“Long term I hope to continue to volunteer on the ship as long as they require volunteers,” he concluded.

Formerly the Team Leader of Anaesthetics at Cairns Private Hospital, Mr Whitehead will join the team at Buderim Private Hospital on Monday.


About Mercy Ships

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 $1.3 billion, with more than 2.56 million direct beneficiaries. Each year, more than 1,200 volunteers from over 40 nations serve with Mercy Ships. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. Mercy Ships Australia, one of 16 international support offices, is based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. For more information, visit

For further information, please contact:

Melissa Mason
National Office Manager
Mercy Ships Australia
(07) 5437 2992
[email protected]

High resolution photos are available upon request, with attribution to Mercy Ships.