Mercy Ships

By Rachel Buckingham
Children’s Orthopaedic Surgeon, Oxford

Have you considered doing some voluntary work alongside your ‘day job’ ?

Have you considered working in Africa?

Have you considered working on a hospital ship?

Then let me tell you about Mercy Ships. Mercy Ships is a Christian charity that has provided free surgery for the world’s forgotten poor for over 45 years.

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At the invitation of the host nation, the Mercy Ships dock for 10 months bringing everything required to provide much needed surgery. As well as completing thousands of urgent operations onboard our floating hospitals, the Africa Mercy and the Global Mercy, Mercy Ships volunteers also work closely with the relevant Ministry of Health to improve the way healthcare is delivered across the country, by training and mentoring local medical staff, and renovating local hospitals and clinics.

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Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55 countries, providing services valued at more than £1.3 billion. By improving healthcare delivery in every country it visits, Mercy Ships is working to eradicate the diseases of poverty and effectively do itself out of a job. Mercy Ships follows the model of Jesus by 'bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor', helping people of all faiths and none.

The Lancet commission on Global Surgery showed that two-thirds of people in the world do not have access to safe or affordable surgery, and in sub-Saharan Africa that figure rises to 93%. Furthermore 32.9% of deaths worldwide are attributable to inability to access timely surgery. That is more than three times the number that die from HIV, TB and Malaria combined.


But while twins like Assanou and Assanne with painful rickets (pictured left) are unlikely to die from lack of surgery, their condition means that they may not be able to attend school, hold down a job or get married, and they are likely to be stigmatised. So, life for them looked pretty bleak. Imagine how their mother’s desperation will have turned to hope when she heard of the possibility of surgery on board a floating hospital. And what an adventure for them to walk on board a ship for the first time knowing that the next time they set foot on dry land their legs would be straight!

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The paediatric orthopaedic surgery done on board is truly life changing for all the patients with severe limb deformities. In addition to paediatric orthopaedics, Mercy Ships also provides plastic, general, maxillofacial, obstetric fistula, eye and dental surgery as well as a palliative care service. 

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I volunteer with Mercy Ships twice per year, once on each ship, doing 2-3 weeks of paediatric orthopaedic surgery each visit. It’s a little different from the day job in Oxford, but parents the world over just want the best for their children, and its amazing to be able to provide treatment free of charge, for those who would not otherwise be able to afford it, restoring hope and the possibility of a full life ahead.

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As ortho lead for Mercy Ships, one of my jobs is to find the volunteer surgeons to continue this amazing work. You need to be a paediatric orthopaedic consultant to apply. If you would like to know more, have a look at the website where you can also register your interest apply for the ‘talent pool’: or contact me to find out more [email protected].

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