In 2024, Mercy Ships is excited to add the next chapter to our decades-long collaboration with Madagascar. During this coming field service, we plan to bring hope and healing anew by providing transformative surgical education as well as life-changing free surgeries to patients on board the Africa Mercy®. These operations will cover a range of specialties including maxillofacial and ENT, general, paediatric specialised general, paediatric orthopaedic, and reconstructive plastics.
“Madagascar faces a shortage of surgical support from both local and international partners, especially in the most vulnerable areas. We appreciate Mercy Ships’ approach in reaching underserved communities. As we open 28 district hospitals, each requiring at least two surgeons, we look forward to collaborating with Mercy Ships to strengthen our surgical capacity,” shared Dr. Lethicia Lydia Yasmine, secretary general for the Ministry of Health, Madagascar.
What is the Need for Safe Surgery in Madagascar?
The scope and rugged terrain of Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, means many of the population face significant challenges when it comes to accessing the care they need. The exorbitant cost of surgical equipment and the distance from healthcare services remain high on the list.
A 2016 study found that only 20% of the population can access surgical services within 2 hours, and up to 95% of the population would face financial ruin if they required surgery. With only approximately 20 physicians for every 100,000 people, necessary surgical treatment feels out of reach for many.
This is why, for the patients who will come on board, the opportunity to receive safe surgery represents a new beginning and restored hope – not only for themselves, but often for their families and wider communities.
How Will a Hospital Ship Increase Access to Safe Surgery?
While caring for individual lives, Mercy Ships is also committed to the ‘big picture’. In the words of Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
Inspired by this philosophy, Mercy Ships is designing education, training, and advocacy programs to bring lasting change to Madagascar’s surgical care systems. Currently, the organisation is working with Madagascar’s Ministry of Health to identify the greatest needs and work with partners to strengthen the surgical systems in the long term. This education, training, and advocacy (ETA) strategy involves increasing the number of surgical providers available to patients, providing training to those across the surgical ecosystem, co-creating sustainable educational programs in coordination with host countries, creating a network of healthcare providers, and advocating for the place of surgery in healthcare on an international level.
This focus aligns with a need for quality education and training that emerged in a recent evaluation carried out by Mercy Ships in Madagascar.
“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, anesthetists, and other professionals of the healthcare system, particularly those related to the surgical ecosystem.”
How Has Mercy Ships Partnered with Madagascar in the Past?
The 10-month field service will be the fourth visit since 1996, with the most recent taking place in 2015-2016. Over the course of these three previous field services, Mercy Ships worked with the government and Ministry of Health to provide a total of 2,951 surgeries and more than 52,000 dental procedures. In addition to providing life-changing surgical and dental care, Mercy Ships has also had a historic focus on education, with a total of 2,019 healthcare professionals receiving training from Mercy Ships in the past.
“In our last field service, we were able to provide life-transforming, life-changing, life-enabling surgeries that have allowed the people that benefited from them to be part of the communities they come from and allowed certain people to return to their jobs. They brought a certain dimension of hope that otherwise would not have been experienced… an impact that we can’t measure,” shared Esperant. “We’re seeing professors that are still teaching the simulation courses that were initiated by Mercy Ships, and we’re seeing the interns that are still benefiting from this.”
How to Volunteer with Mercy Ships: Find Your Place on Board
It’s an exciting time as Mercy Ships brings life-changing hope and healing to many more people in Madagascar. But none of it is possible without the crew of volunteer professionals bringing their skills and compassionate hearts to serve on board.
There are opportunities to be at the forefront of immense change on the ETA team, which currently has critical open roles such as project director, clinical training coordinator, and Informatics Specialist. But it doesn’t end there. Ward nurses, IT professionals, cooks, teachers, plumbers, electricians – all of these and more are needed to make these life transformations happen in Madagascar and beyond.
If you have a desire to make a meaningful impact, now is the time. Find your place on board and find your purpose in this mission. Take the first steps today.