Wednesday 26 September 2018: The Surgery Ship, an Australian-made documentary, follows life aboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the MV Africa Mercy.

A team of Australian volunteer doctors and nurses joins an international crew heading for the Republic of Guinea in West Africa. Currently Guinea experiences extreme poverty as it struggles to become autonomous. As a result, many Guineans suffer from extraordinary medical conditions that are rare elsewhere, and because most people live on less than $3 a day, treatment is completely out of reach. They’ve simply had to live with debilitating and disfiguring conditions… until now.

The Africa Mercy’s volunteers face profound professional and emotional challenges as they attempt to treat curious diseases they’ve seldom seen outside their textbooks. These surgeries call for innovative – sometimes shocking – techniques, in order to bring about transformations from disfigurement, repair deformed limbs or congenital defects, and heal burns and post-war injuries. Before the ship must move on, the team treats as many of the neediest cases as they can. Unable to receive medical care any other way, the patients literally put their lives into the surgeons’ hands. In many cases, the results are dramatic, life-altering and heart-warming.

On location in Guinea, director Madeleine Hetherton and her crew were embedded with the Africa Mercy team, documenting the powerful and inspirational stories of both patients and healers. Some of the stories end in triumph, others in tragedy as the doctors must explain to their patients that nothing can be done for their terminal conditions.

Hetherton observes, “This is a story about the challenges of giving aid. There are brutal limits to what it can achieve. The line of patients at its door is unending. The ethics of who to choose for surgery and who is not is harrowing.”

“Despite these complications, The Surgery Ship is also a story about the everyday heroism of both Africans and the volunteers, and the human drive to rise above circumstances, to survive, and give the best of ourselves – even when there seems no end in sight. At its heart, this is a positive film; in it, we see people who are seeking to make a difference. It is an outward looking-story about how we can engage with the world.”

The Surgery Ship features several Australian medical volunteers including plastic surgeon Nerida Butcher from Merewether in New South Wales, ENT surgeon Neil Thomson from Gosford, NSW, Brisbane physiotherapist Nick Veltjens, and nurse Deb Louden from Toowoomba, Queensland. The documentary was made with the support of Screen Australia and Screen NSW. Produced by the energetic and adventurous team at Media Stockade, the film is an uncompromising look at the consequences of lives lived without access to modern medicine and the ethical challenges in trying to help.

The Surgery Ship airs on 7TWO at 10.30pm on Sunday, 30 September and 12pm on Friday, 19 October.

Watch the trailer at


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.