5 billion people

According to a recent study, 5 billion human beings do not have sufficient access to essential surgery. Since 1978, Mercy Ships has collaborated with governments and the World Health Organisation to help respond to this challenge.

A large majority of the world population does not have the benefit of a nearby hospital or lacks the financial means to seek treatment. In addition, hospitals and clinics in the poorest nations on the planet are often deprived of the equipment required to respond to needs and the skills to perform certain vital operations.

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.

5 billion

of people do not have sufficient access to essential surgery

40 million

(at least) untreated surgical conditions in sub-Saharan Africa every year.


of all children need surgical care before their 15th birthday.

Lack of access to surgery – a source of poverty

Two thirds of the world’s population, around 5 billion people, do not have sufficient access to operations. This is the terrible assessment of a recent study undertaken by the medical journal The Lancet.

This study, Global Surgery 2030, shows that in West and sub-Saharan Africa, 93% of the people are deprived of surgical care. On average, there are two doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, versus 32 in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation. Life expectancy is only 52 years, compared with 74 years in Europe.

Beyond the human drama, the group behind the study “Lancet Commission on Global Surgery” puts forward evidence of the disastrous economic consequences of untreated surgical problems. Without an urgent improvement within their health systems between now and 2030, countries with low or intermediate income will endure a loss of $12.3 million due to a lack of access to surgical care. This will reduce the annual growth of the GDP of these countries by 2%.

The governments of these countries are thus very interested in finding sustainable solutions to improve their health systems. In this sense the authors of this study encourage a close collaboration with humanitarian organisations. The objective is not just to respond to the immediate surgical needs of the population, but also to make the countries independent and capable of adequately training their doctors, surgeons and other health professionals.


The response of Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships aims to respond to this challenge using their hospital ships. Health professionals provide specialised surgical care to the most underprivileged populations. Moreover, Mercy Ships supports lasting development with the help of medical training programs and refurbishment of sanitary infrastructure, with the aim of improving health systems in the countries visited.

Mercy Ships always goes to countries at the invitation of their governments: before the arrival of the ship, we collaborate with the ministry of health to identify not only the needs but also to what extent we are in a position to support, reinforce and contribute to the improvement of the health system.

Our objective is that, one day, the countries that we serve will no longer have need of us and that they, in their turn, will be bringers of hope and healing!


Our Programmes


  • 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 – Food for Life
    Mercy Ships has been implementing Food for Life programs 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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