Aussie healthcare goes global

Aussie volunteers from the 'Africa Mercy'

As we approach the season of goodwill, it helps to look a little beyond our immediate world and see how Australian healthcare workers are making a vital difference to the lives of the thousands in need of care overseas.

Last Christmas, volunteers from more than 60 nations were living onboard Mercy Ships’ hospital ship, Africa Mercyin West Africa, including more than 20 Australians, each working to provide surgery, support and hope to some of the world’s poorest people in Africa.

Mercy Ships Australia Managing Director Alan Burrell points to a report in The Lancet highlighting that five billion people worldwide are unable to access essential surgery.

“When you look into that, you find that 16.9 million people are dying needlessly every year due to this lack, and yet this remains one of the world’s best-kept secrets,” he said.

“Mercy Ships addresses this need by using hospital ships to deliver world-class surgeries, such as correction of maxillofacial deformities, repair of hernias, orthopaedic deformities and neglected trauma, and ophthalmic procedures including the removal of cataracts. We also focus on capacity building and sustainable development for those without access in the developing world.

“Free services provided to date are valued at more than $1 billion, [with Mercy Ships] having carried out more than 80,000 life-saving surgeries and treated more than 2.7 million direct beneficiaries.”

Each year, Mercy Ships has more than 1600 volunteers, including pharmacists, surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen and engineers, all willing to donate their time and skills to the effort.

Helping the hurting minds 

In developing countries, individuals suffering from mental illness are often marginalised by their communities.

At times, adverse community reaction to mentally ill patients leads to further abuse, typically due to a poor understanding of the disease.

While a few undeveloped countries have facilities that offer mental healthcare, these are often insufficient.

Healthcare workers are integral to the delivery of quality mental health services, with training programs for the workers significantly improving treatment.

Mercy Ships aims to demystify mental illness by providing knowledge about and compassion for those suffering from a disease that is often surrounded by confusion. Community leaders are also mentored through counselling courses.

Additional community-based training includes workshops for teachers, social workers, police, prison workers and military leaders.

On the Africa Mercy, volunteers make a point of sharing their country’s culture through various events that all crew are invited to attend.

Carols by Candlelight, an event for the ship’s entire crew, is coordinated by the Australian volunteers at Christmas time.

It makes for a special night on the dock with the crew and patients holding candles while singing carols.

Floating a new idea 

Mercy Ships’ work with the Africa Mercy, a converted rail ferry, has been so successful at transforming the lives of those in desperate need of medical care that the charity is expanding its impact and capacity to transform lives further in 2022.

With the Africa Mercy continuing in service, Mercy Ships is currently outfitting a new hospital ship, the purpose-built Global Mercy, claimed to be the world’s largest civilian hospital ship.

Apart from the capital cost of the new build, raised largely from private and corporate donors, millions of dollars are needed each year to provide direct medical services and run the new ship, which is equipped with six operating theatres, six hospital wards, and facilities for radiology, screening and admissions, rehab, outpatient care, and comprehensive training.

When Global Mercy is introduced into service next year, Mercy Ships will more than double its impact on the lives of thousands, providing free medical care for some of the world’s poorest people in Africa and giving training support for African medical professionals.

If you’re a pharmacist or healthcare worker looking for the adventure of a lifetime, Mercy Ships needs pharmacy technicians, pharmacists and senior pharmacists to serve on board the hospital ships.

The surgical and crew pharmacies onboard the Africa Mercy and Global Mercy prepare and dispense over-the-counter and prescription medications directly to patients and crew.

Your attention to detail, expert advice, consulting services, cost-effective use of pharmaceuticals, and management of the distribution and procurement of medications are critically needed on board.

Commitments range in length from eight weeks to two years. Learn more about joining Mercy Ships to bring hope and healing to the nations of West Africa at:

To read the feature in full as it appears in this month’s issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants e-magazine, visit: