What is Mercy Ships?

About 5 billion people worldwide do not have adequate access to surgical interventions.

The Mercy Ships answer: providing specific medical care through hospital ships to the poorest of the poor through health care services, life-changing operations and capacity building programs by mobilizing people and resources worldwide. Mercy Ships was founded 1978 in Lausanne, by Don and Deyon Stephens. Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, with more than 2.35 million direct beneficiaries.

Each year Mercy Ships has more than 1,200 volunteers from over 40 nations. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort.

An enormous challenge

A large majority of the world population does not have the benefit of a nearby hospital or lack the financial means to seek treatment. According to a recent study, 5 million human beings do not have sufficient access to essential surgery.

What could be worse than a dirty waiting room and a dilapidated operating theatre with well-worn equipment in a state of deterioration? For many without adequate care, a mild injury could be transformed into a fatal illness.

Mercy Ships collaborates with governments and the World Health Organisation to help respond to this challenge.

Our answer: hospital ships

Over 50% of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of the coast. Our ships deliver a state-of-the-art hospital to port cities, providing a controlled, safe and clean environment for patients and volunteers.

The Africa Mercy, the world’s largest non governmental hospital ship, is crewed by over 400 volunteers from around the world and brings hope and healing to hundreds of thousands of people who could never have believed it possible.

Urgent needs and lasting impact

Our action is based on two priorities:

  • Mercy Ships serves the dire and immediate needs of the poorests populations. More than 80’000 surgeries have been performed since 1978.
  • Mercy Ships works with host nations to help fill the gaps in health care systems. We provide mentoring and training opportunities for medical professionals. More than 37’000 people have attended our training.

An organization created in Switzerland

In 1978, while living in Lausanne, Switzerland, Don and Deyon Stephens began a journey that led to the founding of Mercy Ships: the couple has the dream of a hospital ship that would reach out to the world’s poorest people.

On July 7th 1978, this dream became a reality. Thanks to a loan from a Swiss bank, Mercy Ships acquires a retired ocean liner called M/V Victoria. Ongoing efforts over four years resulted in the transformation of the passenger vessel into a hospital ship, renamed Anastasis.

In 2007, Mercy Ships launches the Africa Mercy, the largest hospital ship operated by our organization in its history.

History of Mercy Ships

Our programmes

Mercy Ships increases access to health care around the world. Working with qualified local and international partners, Mercy Ships programs offer global support to developing countries, seeking to make health care accessible to all.


  • Women’s Health
    Support and medical care is provided for women who have suffered childbirth injuries. We provide extremely specialised surgery, continuing the recovery process through education and social activities.
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  • Plastic Reconstructive Surgery
    Birth defects, burns and illness often cause deformities we correct through surgeries; including burn-scar contractures, benign tumours, chronic ulcers, combined fingers and many others.
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  • Palliative care
    Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the difficulties associated with life-threatening illness.
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  • Orthopaedic programme
    Mercy Ships trains local surgeons in Ponseti casting, the “universal standard” in non-invasive clubfoot correction, and provides free surgical intervention for musculoskeletal conditions, neglected orthopaedic trauma and joint diseases. To help maintain correction, Mercy Ships provides physical therapy onboard and also trains local partners in how to manufacture braces.
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  • Ophthalmic care
    Our ophthalmic surgeons perform free cataract operations, restoring sight to the blind. Additionally, doctors correct pterygium, strabismus and eyelid deformities and replace painful or disfiguring blind eyes with prostheses. In addition, Mercy Ships trains local surgeons and healthcare professionals, building the capacity of the national eye care system.
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  • Maxillofacial Surgery
    Through corrective and reconstructive maxillofacial surgeries, our surgeons relieve deformities caused by physical conditions such as tumours, cleft lip, cleft palate and noma.
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  • General Surgery
    Our surgeons reduce the effects of neglected trauma, disease and congenital conditions by providing general surgeries for conditions such as hernias and goiters.
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  • Dental / Oral health
    Mercy Ships aims to prevent and reduce the effects of a lack of oral healthcare by providing dental treatment and dental hygiene education and training.
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  • Training and Capacity Building
    Mercy Ships is working with partners and stakeholders to develop capacity building projects that improve the quality of services across an entire hospital setting, from strengthening technical skills and human capital, to improving working conditions and quality of care.
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  • Medical infrastructure renovations
    Together with local leaders, governments and the national ministries of health, development teams assess healthcare needs in local hospitals and design and implement renovation projects.
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  • Agriculture training
    Mercy Ships has been implementing Food for Life programmes since 1997. Food for Life projects have been impacting lives and training people how to produce nutritional food and crops sustainably.
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"On behalf of the Liberian people, I wish to thank all the volunteers on the ship who come from all over the world for their sacrifice and the comfort they have given to so many poor and needy Liberians. Their work goes beyond compassion and healing the sick. It shows that the world is a global village, with no racial and social boundaries. The Liberian people are grateful."

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – President (2006-2018), Liberia