On February 1, amid much joy and celebration, the newly refit Africa Mercy® hospital ship arrived in the port of Toamasina, Madagascar. Welcomed by the government and Ministry of Health of Madagascar, the Africa Mercy is ready to bring transformative hope and healing  over the next 10 months.

The ship’s arrival was heralded by dancing, traditional music, waving, and cheers by both those on board and those watching eagerly on the dock. The moment has been long-awaited by crew and the country alike, with nearly a decade passing since a Mercy Ships vessel last visited Madagascar from 2014-2016.

“Our crew hails from over 35 countries around the world. We have come together with the sole purpose of bringing hope and healing to the people of Madagascar,” shared Nathan Jensen, the hospital ship’s Managing Director. “The arrival of the Africa Mercy in Madagascar signals a new era of Mercy Ships, as we now have two vessels officially in port ready to serve the people of Africa.”

Life-Changing Surgical Care and Surgical Education Ahead

During this coming field service, the international volunteer crew on board hope to bring lasting change to Madagascar’s surgical care systems through a series of long-term education, training, and advocacy (ETA) projects designed to equip and empower the country’s healthcare workforce. In addition to training and mentoring opportunities, Mercy Ships will offer safe, free surgeries on board across a range of surgical specialties, including maxillofacial and ear, nose, and throat; general; paediatric specialized general; paediatric orthopaedic; cataract; and reconstructive plastics.

“There is a huge desire within the health system in Madagascar to improve the quality of education,” shared Esperant Mulumba, Mercy Ships Country Director in Madagascar. “We will be able to leverage the availability of the ship in the port of Toamasina as a platform through which we can strengthen the surgical training program that the government has by providing residencies and other sorts of training opportunities for local surgeons, anaesthetists, and other professionals of the healthcare system, particularly those related to the surgical ecosystem.”

The Path to Welcoming Patients on Board

With the ship now docked in port, work is underway to prepare for the first surgeries to take place at the end of May. In the coming weeks, crew will begin running patient registration and selection in different locations across the country, ensuring that a variety of those in need of surgical care will have the opportunity to be considered for surgery on board. As these selections won’t be taking place on board, the Malagasy population are being urged to wait to hear on local radio stations about small regional patient selection opportunities in their area for certain conditions.

“These details will be released on local radio and advertised in the specified areas of the greatest need,” said Esperant. “Surgeries can only go ahead for specific conditions when we have a full complement of volunteers to ensure specialised surgeries can happen as planned at the end of May without delays and rescheduling.

Meanwhile, Mercy Ships will continue to lay the foundation for a strong ETA program in Madagascar by collaborating with the Ministry of Health to develop in-country partnerships and identify opportunities for collaboration and learning. Through the ETA strategy, the organisation aims to increase the number of surgical providers, provide training across the surgical ecosystem, develop sustainable educational programs, establish a network of healthcare providers, and advocate for the importance of surgery in healthcare globally.

Due to the rugged terrain and scope of the country, only 20% of the population can access surgical services within a two-hour timeframe, and 95% of patients would face financial ruin if they required surgery. With a scarcity of physicians, approximately 20 for every 100,000 people, the prospect of receiving necessary surgical treatment seems unattainable for many. This means that for most of the patients who will come on board the Africa Mercy in the coming months, safe surgery will bring not only transformative physical healing, but also serve as the answer to long-held hope.

Over the course of prior visits, Mercy Ships collaborated with the government and Ministry of Health to provide more than 6,425 surgical procedures and over 52,000 dental procedures. In addition to delivering life-changing surgical and dental care, Mercy Ships has a longstanding commitment to education, having trained 2,019 healthcare professionals in Madagascar previously.

“Receiving life-changing surgeries will impact the lives of the people of Madagascar. They will have their dignity restored and hope reborn. And with our training programs offered, we will leave a lasting impact in the nation,” shared Agnes Biney, a long-time Mercy Ships volunteer HR facilitator from Ghana.

This field service marks the hospital ship’s return after spending 2023 undergoing an extensive refit in South Africa. During this time, the vessel, which first joined the Mercy Ships fleet in 2007, received renovations in both the interior and exterior. Key projects included renovating the onboard hospital, pharmacy, and lab, as well as the dining room, galley, and information systems, equipping the hospital ship to serve patients with an even greater level of quality and efficiency.

Want to be part of making a tangible impact during this exciting season in Madagascar? There’s still time and space for you on board! Volunteers are needed across each deck, including in the operating room, the hospital ward, the galley, the engine room, and the communications office. Find your place on board today.