Global Mercy ships hope and health to people in poverty

Global Mercy ships hope and health to people in poverty

Global Mercy, the world’s first purpose-built hospital ship, currently under construction, grants the poorest of the poor access to high-quality health care. Wärtsilä’s engines help the ship run smoothly and quietly for both volunteers living on board and patients receiving life-changing care.

Text: Anne Salomäki Photo: Mercy Ships

Infections, postpartum issues or eye inflammations might sound like causes for mundane visits to a doctor’s in Europe. However, amongst the poorest demographics in Africa, lack of access to healthcare can mean that regular diseases go untreated, ultimately becoming dangerous or even lethal.

“For example, a simple eye surgery can help children that have been blind for their whole life, but they just don’t have the opportunity or funds to undergo it,” says Ronald Hemerik, Partnerships Manager at Mercy Ships Holland.

Mercy Ships, a global charity founded in 1978, travels around the world’s poorest regions offering help, healthcare, and education to people who lack access to proper equipment and facilities and trained medical professionals. Docking in poverty-stricken regions and staffed by hundreds of volunteers, the organisation has thus far visited almost 600 ports in 57 countries, providing things like surgeries, dental care, and training as well as infrastructure and agriculture projects.

The charity has offered services valued at more than a billion USD and impacted the lives of almost 2,5 million people living in poverty. The reason for the ships’ wide and effective reach is that, according to Mercy Ships, three quarters of the world’s population lives within 100 mile-radius of a port city.

On top of patients, there are plenty of indirect beneficiaries of Mercy Ships’ free-of-charge services. For example, if the breadwinner of the family falls ill, the whole family faces a dire situation.

“It’s not just about healing, it’s also about giving people their lives back,” Hemerik explains. “Healthy people can help their communities and contribute to the economy, too.”

Global Mercy ships hope and health to people in poverty2
When launched, Global Mercy will embark on its first journey from Benin.

  
   

Wanted: Quiet, safe, and stable engines

Currently, Mercy Ships operates with Africa Mercy, a train ferry turned into a hospital ship. All existing hospital ships are conversions from other kinds of vessels, such as passenger cruise ships or tankers.

This is set to change: Mercy Ships has embarked on a unique project, making the world’s first purpose-built hospital ship. It’s being built in China, with project management taken care of by Swedish shipping company Stena RoRo.

Mercy Ships Project Manager Rikard Olsson from Stena RoRo describes Global Mercy as a one-of-a-kind project. If building a ship is never a piece of cake, the Global Mercy poses extra challenges.

“We need to match all hospital-related requirements as well as obey the rules of marine regulations,” Olsson explains. “For example, we need to separate the air condition of the hospital from other areas and carefully handle medical waste.”

However, unlike converted ships, Global Mercy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of its use as a healthcare facility. This is why it will run on low-vibration 6L32 engines provided by Wärtsilä, with lower emissions and less vibration and noise than on existing hospital vessels.

“Nobody wants to be shaking in their hospital bed because of trembling engines,” Hemerik notes. “We’ve been told that the Wärtsilä engines can hardly be heard on board.”

The engines have to be of the highest quality also because the ship generates its own energy. Mercy Ships needs uninterrupted power supply due to the sensitive nature of its operations.

“We can’t have a power cut in the middle of a surgery,” Hemerik says. “That’s why our engines need to be extremely reliable and stable, and that’s why we’ve chosen Wärtsilä.”

Global Mercy ships hope and health to people in poverty3
   
Global Mercy ships hope and health to people in poverty4
A global charity Mercy Ships travels around the world’s poorest regions offering help, healthcare and education to people who lack access to proper equipment and facilities and trained medical professionals.

  

   
Volunteers put in 200 percent

When launched, Global Mercy will embark on its first journey from Benin. Out of the vessel’s total area of 30 000 square metres, 7 000 will be dedicated to the hospital.

The remaining space will be used for training and education – and it will also serve as a home for hundreds of volunteers. Thus, Olsson says, it needs to resemble a home instead of a place for entertainment and experiences. As many of the staff will bring their families, there will be a school on board, too.

Hemerik is astonished by the dedication of Mercy Ships’ volunteers. No one is financially compensated for their efforts; instead, they pay for their own travel and vaccinations and contribute by not only offering their professional skills for free, but also paying a monthly fee during their time on the boat. The annual two-month maintenance period also includes plenty of volunteers, sponsors and donations.

“All volunteers give 200 percent of themselves to be able to help,” Hemerik says.

Some volunteers, Hemerik says, have even given birth on Africa Mercy. This is of course no problem whatsoever, as there’s probably no better place for a newborn baby.

“The ship is one of the safest places in Africa for childbirth, with plenty of equipment and trained professionals.”

Global Mercy ships hope and health to people in poverty5
“All volunteers give 200 percent of themselves to be able to help,” says Ronald Hemerik, Partnerships Manager at Mercy Ships Holland.

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