British Journal of Surgery (BJS) has published an important medical paper about the work of Mercy Ships. The paper is an evaluation of our implementation of the WHO’s Surgical Safety Checklist in Benin in 2016/17,  co-authored by Mercy Ships expert Dr Michelle White of Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Dr Nina Capo-Chichi, a surgeon in Benin,

The Checklist is a simple tool that has been repeatedly shown to improve surgical outcomes and reduce mortality and morbidity.

‘One of the greatest challenges we face in tackling this problem is how to take proven interventions, and implement them successfully, at scale in low-income settings.’ Dr Michelle White.

In Benin, Mercy Ships volunteer experts visited 36 hospitals and delivered three days of multidisciplinary checklist training at each site, teaching medical staff how to use the Checklist. The aim was to see how great an effect Mercy Ships could have by running intensive courses in Checklist training across a whole country, rather than spending six to 12 months in a single hospital. Would the healthcare providers still be using the Checklist up to four months later?

‘We found that checklist use increased from 31% pre-training to 89% at four months and this was sustained at 86% 12-18 months later. Also after 12-18 months, there was high fidelity use and high penetration shown by an improvement in hospital safety culture.’ Dr Nina Capo-Chichi.

This evaluation, published in the BJS, forms part of the ongoing assessment of Mercy Ships field services in Benin. Assessing our work in this way enables us to improve the delivery of our projects and connect our work to tangible outcomes and impact subsequent field services; offer better healthcare strategy advice to host nations’ governments, and provide information to other non-governmental organisations working in low and middle-income countries.

The paper also stands with a growing body of work led by female medics and jointly with professionals in both Western and Sub-Saharan Africa – a hallmark of the innovative and collaborative approach Mercy Ships is proud to promote.

See a video summary and read the full paper ‘Implementation and evaluation of nationwide scale-up of the Surgical Safety Checklist’

‘Leaving a legacy of lasting change is crucial, so in addition to providing direct medical care on our hospital ship during a ten-month field service, Mercy Ships implements a programme focused on health system-strengthening and quality improvement across the whole country, with the goal of improving the medical care provided for generations to come,’ stated Dr Peter Linz, International Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Ships.


Captain John Borrow taking a navigational fix during the sail.

John Borrow never planned on being a full-time volunteer, but when he first heard about Mercy Ships in the 1990’s he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t ignore.His long journey with the not-for-profit that operates the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, Africa Mercy, has taken Mr Borrow and his family from Sydney around the world. From 2016 to 2018 he served as the flagship’s Captain.

More than 400 volunteers from over 40 nations live and work on board the Mercy Ship, providing free surgical essential services and health care education to those without access in the developing world.

Borrow learnt of Mercy Ships through a friend. After setting foot on board during a visit while a ship was in port in New South Wales, he knew he wanted to be part of its crew.

‘I was kind of disillusioned with my sea career,’ Captain Borrow recalls. ‘I went up to check out the ship and I was pretty excited. I kept thinking that I had found my thing; I found my calling.’

Joining the Mercy Ship as Third Officer, Borrow travelled to Papua New Guinea on a three-month assignment and was enthralled by the experience. After hearing about the trip, his partner Lee-Anne, who was a dietitian and had just finished her master’s degree in nutrition, was also eager to join.

Borrow Family in front of the funnel

After the couple married in 2001, they boarded the now-retired Caribbean Mercy, where Borrow volunteered as Chief Officer before moving on to the original Mercy Ship, Anastasis, in 2005, where the couple raised their first son for the first 18 months of his life.

Eventually ,they returned to Australia to have their second son. After 8 years of being at home and working ashore Borrow knew it was time to return to Mercy Ships. 

The Borrow family joined the current flagship, Africa Mercy, in Madagascar in 2015, allowing John to claim that he’s been the Chief Officer on every Mercy Ship except for one.

He took over as Captain in August 2016 and three years’ service took the family to Benin, Cameroon and Guinea. Lee-Anne used her professional skills in the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Programme while their boys attended the onboard school for crew children. In each port Lee-Anne worked with the Mums of severely underweight babies. These infants with cleft palates require additional nutrition so they would be strong enough to undergo plastic surgery to reconstruct their clefts.

Captain Borrow and his family have now returned home, leaving a vacancy in his role.

‘We are struggling right now to find long term Deck Officers, especially Chief Officers and Captains. These roles are not only critical for the safe operation of the ship, but also to lead our deck crew, which are mostly Africans and the nicest, most gentle, respectful bunch of people you’re ever likely to meet.’

‘Our three years on board the Africa Mercy has been an amazing experience and we’ve met some truly inspiring people here, all with the same goal to help those not as lucky as we are. Once you see this level of pain and suffering you cannot be unaffected. You cannot ignore it, something changes, and you have to help.’

Captain John Borrow and Dietitian Lee-Anne Borrow

Thanks to Professional Skipper magazine for publishing this story


When M’Mah was born, her mother had a simple wish for her daughter’s life. ‘I want her to be like a diamond — to shine bright,’ she said.

Unfortunately for most of M’Mah’s life, the light inside her was overshadowed by the neurofibroma growing on her face.

When she was just a baby, her parents noticed a small lump and dark hairs growing above her left eye. By the time she was five years old, M’Mah’s neurofibroma was drooping over her forehead like a sac and beginning to dislocate her eye.

Over time, more lumps started to develop on her skull and upper lip, causing severe swelling. Even at her young age, other kids noticed M’Mah’s differences, which led to bullying and name-calling. They would call her ‘sick’ and avoid playing with her because they were afraid of her.

As a result, she was spending her childhood on the sidelines. She refused to go to school, even though her parents desperately wanted her to have an education. ‘She was so scared… she said everybody would laugh at her,’ said M’Mah’s mother.

With a heavy shroud of insecurity and fear surrounding M’Mah, it was hard to see the sweet, playful girl inside, waiting to be let out.

The family was poor and struggled to provide enough food for their two children, so an expensive, complicated surgery was out of the question. Her parents prayed every day for healing for their daughter.

When they heard about Mercy Ships, M’Mah’s mother was overjoyed. It was the first time that she’d dared to believe her daughter might receive surgery. The family travelled for hours to get to the Africa Mercy, but the end goal was worth every arduous mile.

Soon, a volunteer plastic surgeon specialising in neurofibromas removed the tumour M’Mah had carried for years.

Receptionist Esther Harrington with M-Mah

In the weeks following her operation, M’Mah spent time on board being showered in love and friendship by the nurses, crew and other patients. Esther from Taupo spent many hours playing with the little girl to help her pass away the hours as she recovered from her massive surgery. Freed from worry, the sweet five-year-old slowly emerged from her shell, and her inner diamond began ‘to shine through.

Esther says that on days when I couldn’t make it down to the hospital to play with her, M’Mah asked the translators where her special friend was.

‘One day I went to the hospital just to cuddle her because she was having a bad day. Things were sore, and she was tired. My heart broke as I held her, listening to her deep sobs, and feeling her tears on my arm. But she knew she was safe there. We sat in our own little bubble, and that was enough. I’ve learnt so much about courage and bravery from these little warriors.’

Thanks to her growing confidence, M’Mah is no longer afraid to start school and will begin her education next year.

‘When we came to the ship for the first time, I was just thanking God over and over,’ said M’Mah’s mother. ‘There is no gift greater than good health.’

Written by: Rose Talbot


Sign up to be the first notified of the broadcast date of TVNZ’s SUNDAY feature, recently filmed onboard the Africa Mercy in Guinea

Watch here for broadcast details of the SUNDAY Mercy Ships feature, due to air early in 2019.

Miriama Kamo and TVNZ’s SUNDAY team present a weekly in-depth current affairs, bringing viewers award-winning investigations into the stories that matter.

They are kicking off 2019 with a special filmed on board the Mercy Ship in Conakry, Guinea. Producer Chris Cooke, reporter Tania Page and videographer Gary Hopper had the experience of a lifetime as they followed the journey of a dozen Kiwis volunteering on the Africa Mercy, and met the courageous patients receiving free essential surgery onboard.

Why not receive a notification of the TVNZ free-to-air programme airdate by joining Mercy Ships NZ’s monthly EDM (you can unsubscribe at any time), and then you can plan to have a few friends over to watch along with you!


from the Mercy Ships NZ team. Office hours over Christmas: closed December 24 – January 11 inclusive. Emergency contact through voicemail at 0800637297


When 25-year-old Mercy arrived on the Africa Mercy to be accessed by the screening team, she was in a state of depression. She looked older than her years as she spoke of the sadness and suffering that had consumed her.

Orphaned as a young child, she had lost both of her own children to sickness in the last three years. It was during this time of grief that she first noticed the lump in her mouth, which eventually grew to a large tumour.

‘I was so down I didn’t even think about my health,’ Mercy said. ‘Everyone I have been close to has been taken from me. I wanted to die.’

When her church in Liberia heard that Mercy Ships was coming to Guinea, they came together to raise enough funds to send Mercy to find help. The two-day trek to the port city of Conakry was long and tiring, but Mercy knew she had no other choice. Tears slowly fell down her face as she sat patiently waiting for the outcome of her screening.

The past three years had seen her struggle to eat, talk, and eventually even breathe. But after a long wait, the news finally came that she was approved for surgery! She began to sing right there on the dock, filled with a joy she had forgotten how to feel! Mercy was given something she hadn’t had in a long time — hope.

Following the operation to remove her tumour, Mercy smiled at the thought of all the future held. ‘I am so happy to have been given a chance,’ she said. ‘I have been sad for too long.’

As she began the journey back to Liberia, she finally started to imagine what her life might be like — dreaming dreams she had not let herself imagine before. Despite still grieving the loss of her children, she now believes she has a chance to try again.

‘I would like to find a husband now, and maybe one day I will have children again. That is possible now that I know I will not die,’ Mercy said. ‘I am so thankful to Mercy Ships because now I can start again.’

Written by: Georgia Ainsworth



The real Esther from Mercy Ships New Zealand on Vimeo.

VIDEO: Most people didn’t know the real Esther. They only looked as far as her leg. At school, she was teased. In public, she was shamed. Esther’s grandmother searched the country for a solution to rickets—a vitamin deficiency that caused her daughter’s legs to soften and bend incorrectly under pressure. One windswept leg was robbing Esther of the joys of childhood while threatening her future. Time was running out


Samory never imagined that neglecting a toothache would result in a facial tumour that threatened his dreams and his life. Four years after his toothache began, the once healthy 25-year-old was a shell of who he once was. As his tumour grew and his self-esteem deflated.

Having grown up in a rural village in Guinea, Samory knew there was a slim chance he would be able to seek medical attention due to the cost, availability, and his own financial restrictions. His mother tried using traditional remedies to help the growing lump but to no avail. Samory’s tumour wasn’t slowing down, and each day it was more painful than the last.

‘The worst part was knowing that it was only going to get worse because there was nothing we could do,’ Samory said. ‘When I thought of my future, I was scared.’

But Samory didn’t always feel this way. Before he was forced to leave school due to the pain of his tumour, he looked forward to becoming a mathematics teacher one day; he was the only one in his family to attempt continuing his studies. But the people he thought were his friends cruelly declared that it was this ambition to better his life that in fact cursed his health.

‘People would mock my mother and tell her it was because she wanted more for me in life — that greed is why I was stuck with this tumour. I didn’t like to go out with her because of the negative attention it brought her,’ recalled Samory. ‘My mother loves many things and is a happy woman, but my condition brought her sadness.’

After the pain became too much to bear, Samory reluctantly made the journey to the capital city to seek help, even though he knew he could not afford it. But when he reached Conakry, he heard the good news he so desperately needed— a ship that would perform free surgeries had arrived in his home country! After being approved for surgery on the Africa Mercy to finally remove his painful tumour, Samory’s dreams for the future no longer seemed so distant.

Dressed to the nines, Samory arrived on the dock, thrilled to be taking his first steps toward a surgery that would replace his suffering with joy. ‘It’s amazing to me to think that years’ worth of pain will be taken away in just one day!’

Just one day later, Samory looked in the mirror and finally saw the smile he remembered before his tumour. He was free. Thanks to his courage, ambition, and the gift of safe, free surgery on the Africa Mercy, Samory’s dreams were rekindled! ‘I am looking forward to picking up my studies again so I can become a mathematics teacher, just like I wanted to be before the pain began. Life is good once again!’

Written by: Georgia Ainsworth