World’s largest charity hospital ship arrives in Dakar to provide free surgery in Senegal and The Gambia

Global Mercy at the port in Dakar, Senegal

World’s largest charity hospital ship arrives in Dakar to provide free surgery in Senegal and The Gambia

The world’s largest charity hospital ship – the Global Mercy – has arrived in West Africa on 14th February and is preparing to deliver its first surgeries onboard. The newly built vessel from Mercy Ships will provide free, safe surgery and medical care to some 800 patients from Senegal and The Gambia over the next five months while in the port of Dakar, and train local medical professionals. 

International charity Mercy Ships has been working in partnership with the ministries of health in both Senegal and The Gambia to serve both countries over the coming months. The work is life-saving, as 9 out of 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa do not currently have access to safe surgery, according to a report from The Lancet Commission. 

Around 50 crew from Britain and Ireland will serve in Senegal over the next five months, including 15 nurses and 15 doctors (from surgeons to anaesthetists). It takes many professions to run the ship, and staff from Britain and Ireland include teachers, engineers, an accountant, clerical and housekeeping staff. 

The Global Mercy was docked in Dakar in 2022 and delivered training to Senegalese health professionals, but it has never hosted surgery on board its state-of-the-art hospital.  

It is expected that more than 150,000 lives will be transformed through surgery alone, during the next 50 years of the Global Mercy’s lifespan: individuals, families and communities who will change their lives through safe surgery and medical care. In addition, thousands of African medical professionals will receive training and mentoring with the goal of multiplying impact within their own communities. 

The Global Mercy floating hospital is 174 metres long, 28.6 metres wide, and has space for 200 patients, six operating theatres, a laboratory, general outpatient clinics, dental and eye clinics, and training facilities. The hospital decks cover a total area of 7,000 square metres and contain the latest training facilities.  

The ship can accommodate up to 950 people when docked, including crew members – most of whom are volunteers – from all over the world. It will serve collaboratively in the future with the Africa Mercy, which has been in operation since 2007 and is soon to undergo a refit to return to service in the autumn. 

Gert van de Weerdhof, Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Ships International, said:

“The Global Mercy’s arrival in Dakar this week is particularly meaningful to our team, as this year, we will be serving the people of both Senegal and The Gambia thanks to partnerships with their ministries of health. 

“We anticipate that over the next five months more than 800 maxillo-facial, paediatric orthopaedic, paediatric general, general, and eye surgeries will be carried out on board, with up to 25% coming from The Gambia.”    

Joanne Balaam, Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Ships UK, said:

“The Global Mercy welcoming its first patients onboard will be a landmark moment for all Mercy Ships supporters. This work is only made possible thanks to our dedicated volunteers and our generous supporters. Without your ongoing support, we would not be able to continue this truly life-changing work with so many patients, their families and communities.” 

When the Global Mercy visited Senegal in 2022, more than 260 Senegalese healthcare professionals received training on board through a variety of courses addressing delivery of safe surgical care, including Surgical Skills, SAFE Anaesthesia, and Nursing Skills. In 2023, Mercy Ships anticipates providing training for more than 600 medical professionals, to create long-lasting impact.  

The Global Mercy was inaugurated in Dakar by H.E. President of Senegal Macky Sall in May 2022, an ardent advocate in the strategic efforts to improve access to safer surgery, not just in his home country, but across all of Africa, as evidenced by his championing of the Dakar Declaration which he takes forward to the rest of the African Union.