Mercy Ships

The Hon. PAUL GREEN [10.07 p.m.]: Tonight I speak on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party about Mercy Ships. Mercy Ships is an international faith-based organisation with a mission to increase access to health care throughout the world through the development of the world’s largest private hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. Mercy Ships works with host nations to help fill the gaps in health care systems while serving the dire and immediate needs of their populations. Mercy Ships provides a variety of training opportunities for medical professionals, along with curative surgical interventions. Since 1978 Mercy Ships has had more than 2.35 million direct beneficiaries. The countries served by Mercy Ships are ranked as the poorest countries in the world by the United Nations Human Development Index.

International President and founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stevens, was a teenager when the idea of a hospital ship first struck him. He was 19 when he took a trip to the Bahamas with his youth group. That summer Hurricane Cleo swept through in what Don said was a one-in-100-year storm that caused massive devastation. Homes were destroyed and people were killed. Don’s youth group hid in a World War II British Air Force hangar. After the storm ended, he could not forget the words of those present: that it would be wonderful if a ship arrived after the devastation to provide the necessary medical care and supplies. He was challenged by this idea. On 7 July 1978 this dream became a reality. A deposit of $1 million was paid for a rusty old cruise liner and work began in earnest to change the liner into a hospital ship. Don, Deyon and their four children lived on board the first Mercy Ship for 10 years.

Now based in the United States of America, the Stephens have overseen the growth of Mercy Ships from its humble beginnings to an organisation that has more than 1,200 volunteer career staff and crew from more than 40 nations and more than 2,000 short-term volunteers annually. The Africa Mercy, the world’s largest non-government hospital ship, is dedicated to the continent of Africa. Sponsored by corporate and individual donors, the purpose-built ship has five operating rooms and an 82-bed ward. It also has meeting and work spaces, as well as accommodation for an average crew of 450. Funded primarily through private donations, the Mercy Ships programs promote health and wellbeing by empowering developing nations through capacity building and by meeting the urgent surgical needs of the world’s forgotten poor.

Mercy Ships has provided services and materials in developing nations valued at more than $1 billion, including: performing more than 61,000 life-changing operations, such as cleft lip and palate repair, cataract removal, orthopaedic procedures, facial reconstruction and obstetric fistula repair; treating more than 539,000 patients in village clinics, with more than 109,000 dental patients and more than 278,000 dental procedures performed; training more than 5,770 local health-care teachers who have, in turn, trained many others; training more than 29,400 local professionals in their area of expertise—anaesthesiology, midwifery, instrument and theatre sterilisation, orthopaedic and reconstructive surgery, and leadership; teaching more than 150,000 local people in basic health care; and completing more than 1,100 community development projects with a focus on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.

The projected annual medical capacity is approximately 7,000 surgical procedures on board, including cataract removal, lens implants, tumour removal, cleft lip and palate reconstruction, orthopaedics and obstetric fistula repair. The hospital contains a computed tomography [CT] scanner as well as X-ray and laboratory services and a Nikon Coolscope, which allows remote diagnosis almost instantaneously. Whenever required, diagnoses are transmitted via an on-board satellite communication system to doctors in developed countries. In addition to the operations performed on board, ship-based teams work in local villages providing a wide array of services to increase health and wellbeing. They include dental clinics, medical clinics, community health education, HIV-AIDS intervention, and water and sanitation projects such as well drilling, construction, agriculture and microenterprise projects. I congratulate Mercy Ships on its phenomenal work and I commend those involved for their efforts.