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Prof Raphiou Diallo

Our Heroes of Healthcare series features incredible medical professionals spanning the continent of Africa. From Benin’s first Reconstructive Plastic surgeon to an inspiring biomedical engineer technician, this series highlights the outstanding men and women who are changing the healthcare landscape in their countries.

Today, we bring you the story of Professor Raphiou Diallo, a maxillofacial surgeon in Guinea, West Africa who has a unique history with Mercy Ships.

Through our medical capacity building program, Mercy Ships strives to leave a lasting impact in each nation we serve by partnering with medical professionals and strengthening local healthcare systems. Few people bring to life the importance of lasting impact like Professor Raphiou Diallo.

Prof Diallo is a maxillofacial surgeon from Guinea, West Africa who has a rich history with Mercy Ships. Our stories first wove together in 1998, when the Africa Mercy spent her first field service in Conakry, Guinea. Here, Prof Diallo connected with volunteer surgeons on board and joined our surgical mentoring program. In the decades since, he has become an invaluable part of our work in Guinea and neighbouring Sierra Leone.

“We operate as a team, and it is a great pleasure for me to discover this humanitarian NGO, which has very high human values in respecting the culture of the people for whom they come to help,” said Prof Diallo.

Seeing a drastic drop in severe cases

One of Prof Diallo’s early mentors onboard the Africa Mercy was Dr Gary Parker, surgeon and Chief Medical Officer at the time. Under Dr Gary’s guidance, Prof Diallo — along with fellow trainee, Dr Mamadou Karamba Kaba —specialized in cleft-lip and cleft palate repairs. They went on to teach other Guinean surgeons to do the same.

In 2018 — a full 20 years after Prof Diallo’s first visit onboard — the Africa Mercy returned to Guinea once more. Early patient selection screenings revealed a staggering testament to Prof Diallo and Dr Kaba’s work. In a group of 6,000, we would normally find hundreds of cleft-lip and palate patients seeking help. During this screening, the number of patients with this condition dropped to just six.

This incredible feat illustrates just how drastically cases have dropped in Guinea, thanks in large part to surgeon mentoring onboard the Africa Mercy and Prof Diallo’s commitment to this surgical speciality long after our ship sailed away.


Training the next generation of dental surgeons

Prof Diallo’s history of mentorship and training with Mercy Ships has manifested into a desire to provide training for many other Guinean healthcare professionals — specifically, dental surgeons.

In 2018, Prof Diallo brought this dream to Mercy Ships. He proposed that we work together toward strengthening dental surgeon training in Guinea by fostering a space for education. Together, we planned and partnered with a local institution, the Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry, to renovate the university’s department of dentistry in record time. The renovated buildings now house several classrooms, a dental simulation room, a dental laboratory for training purposes, and a large clinical room. Prof Diallo also partnered with Mercy Ships to launch dental training programs that empower local students with the skills, education, and experience they need to thrive.

Through the school and clinic, students can put their classroom knowledge to the test by providing hands-on care for patients, some of whom are battling oral diseases or even maxillofacial tumours.

“We had said to ourselves if we always continue to see tumours of such an advanced level, it is probably because there is also a problem of training. By focusing on dentists, we will be able, in the long term, to diagnose issues at a very early stage and to refer these patients to specialized structures for treatment.”

This hub of dental training is already having transformative results. Thanks to state of the art X-ray equipment in the dental school, Diallo’s team was able to diagnose a young man’s maxillary tumour at an early stage and perform life-changing surgery.


Leaving a lasting impact on Guinea’s population

“I am sure that if the project continues it will enable us to equip the cities of Guinea with excellent dentists, who will not only be able to prevent patients from complications at very advanced stages but also to diagnose benign and malignant tumours at the very early stages,” said Prof Diallo. “We are convinced that the [work] of Mercy Ships in initial and continuous training will have a lasting impact on the Guinean population and that of the West African sub-region.”

With a rising rate of qualified surgeons in Guinea, patients with tumours, facial cellulitis, noma, and more will be able to receive the lifesaving and life-changing treatment they need.

Keep up the fantastic work, Professor Diallo! You’re a Hero of Healthcare not just to us, but to so many patients and medical professionals in Guinea.


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Link to listen now.




Has volunteering with Mercy Ships been something you’ve been thinking and dreaming about? Do you want to hear more about what it’s like before you apply? Kiwis, here’s your chance to catch the inside scoop. You can watch the recent webinar discussion, and meet past and present volunteers in a range of roles including a Kiwi onboard right now!  You’ll get answers to some of those volunteering questions, and you can connect to our NZ volunteer coordinator to find out more.

View the webinar here 




Our Work

– new hope in the water.

Africa needs hope and healing now more than ever before, and our new hospital ship Global Mercy™  is shining the light of hope into difficult times.

Construction on the Global Mercy™  is nearing completion and soon she’ll be fitted out and undergoing sea trials. But now the search is on for the most important part of the ship – and that critical component, that beating heart need to bring the ship to life, is you.

The Global Mercy™ is the world’s largest civilian hospital ship and, together with our long-serving Africa Mercy, will bring hope and healing to the world’s poorest people. It’s been a massive undertaking and, as the Global Mercy™  begins her journey and years of service, we need more volunteers to bring her to life.

We know that’s a big ask especially in times like these, when uncertainties abound, health and economic challenges are constant and the thought of overseas travel seems impossible – but we know you. Your hearts are big and your mercy flows like a strong tide so we know you’ll give it some thought. We also know that the journey to service with Mercy Ships takes time and serious consideration which is why, if you are interested in exploring what’s involved, or have served previously on the Africa Mercy, the information you need has been put together here

We’re also filled with gratitude for the many donors who have helped fund the construction of this incredible vessel – and we thank you with all our hearts. What’s been achieved is remarkable.

It really is a very big ship and, for our volunteers, an experience potentially quite like no other. It’s built to more than double our capacity to deliver safe healthcare and medical training. At 174 metres long and weighing in at 37,000 gross tonnes, the Global Mercy™ will have state-of-the-art technology and instrumentation, six operating theatres and 199 hospital beds. Medical training and developing capacity in our host nations is a critical part of all our programmes and to facilitate this aspect of our work, the Global Mercy™  will have a training centre that includes a simulation lab, virtual reality stations, and the latest teaching equipment.

We will need 600 volunteers to power this new ship which has ample accommodation to make surgeons, nurses, maritime crew, cooks, teachers, electricians, technicians and all our other essential people feel at home.

The Global Mercy will join the Africa Mercy to serve Africa together and their combined medical technology, passionate crews, and partner support means many more people will be helped.

Free surgical procedures by some of the most well-trained physicians in the world remains an important part of our life-changing work. While our patients experience physical healing through the surgeries they receive, they often find much more. Children are able to go to school. Mothers and fathers are able to work and provide for their families. Community relationships are restored. For so many of our patients, access to surgery means finding hope again.

Mercy Ships is dedicated to leaving a legacy of hope and healing. Volunteers like you will help us continue to build up local doctors, nurses and healthcare systems, ensuring that more countries are better able to confront the unknown.

Over the next 50 years, it is estimated that more than 150,000 lives will be changed onboard the Global Mercy™ through surgery alone, with countless more lives helped by the ship’s medical training and infrastructure programmes. In close collaboration with our host nations in Africa, the Global Mercy™ , together with the Africa Mercy, will more than double the impact of our work.

More facts and figures, and a video about the Global Mercy here 

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

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Saliou was too young to realise that he was different. At 2 years old, the little boy had no idea that his cleft lip set him apart from the other children. Blissfully unaware, the condition had no damper on Saliou’s personality, which brought joy to everyone he met.

While some might view Saliou’s condition as a reason to feel shame, especially in West Africa, where the lack of medical access can cause a person to live with the defect for a lifetime, Saliou’s grandmother, Ndiane refused to let his condition hinder her love.

“He’s so handsome,” she said while holding his photo.

Despite her admiration for Saliou, Ndiane still hoped that he wouldn’t have to grow up with a cleft lip which, she worried would cause him to become an outcast when he was older.

“If he didn’t get surgery, he would be different from the other children,” she said.

Unfortunately, Saliou’s family didn’t have the means to find healing for him. With very minimal access to safe, affordable surgery, Ndiane resorted to the only thing she could do — she prayed for a miracle. She held on to the hope that one day, her sweet Saliou would be healed.

After two years of waiting on a miracle, Ndiane was thrilled to hear about a hospital ship that was docked in the capital city of Senegal. This devoted grandmother traveled 12 hours to bring Saliou to the Africa Mercy for a surgery that would change his life forever.

“When I heard about the ship’s arrival, I was relieved,” she said. “Then, I made the decision to stop everything and bring him because this will impact his future!”

Ndaine’s heart swelled with joy and gratitude after Saliou’s operation — her grandson was finally healed! Now the young boy’s future looks brighter than ever.

“I’m giving thanks to God and the people at Mercy Ships. I didn’t have anywhere to get surgery for Saliou, and they did that for me.”

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VIDEO: She only wanted to play like other kids but her knee bent backwards, so even just walking was painful. Marie Madeleine’s condition was too complicated for anyone in Senegal to offer the solution she dreamed of, but her grandmother hoped and prayed that an answer would be found.

Help bring hope and healing to other children waiting for essential surgery.

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The Global Mercy™ is more than a hospital ship, she is a transportable community of 600+ volunteers. The international crew are dedicated to providing essential surgical services otherwise inaccessible, and to building the capacity of health care services in sub-Saharan Africa. more than 150,000 people in desperate need are estimated to receive life-transforming surgery onboard during the vessel’s 50-year lifespan.

Built to more than double the capacity of Mercy Ships to deliver safe healthcare and medical training,  at 174 metres long and weighing in at 37,000 gross tonnes, the Global Mercy™ is the world’s largest civilian hospital ship.  Medical training and developing capacity in our host nations is a critical part of all our programmes and to facilitate this aspect of our work, the Global Mercy™  will have a training centre that includes a simulation lab, virtual reality stations, and the latest teaching equipment.

Hospital Specifications

The hospital covers most of decks 3 and 4 on the Global Mercy™ – approximately 7,000 square metres containing supply and auxiliary services, 6 operating theatres, 102 acute care beds, 7 ICU/isolation beds and an additional 90 self-care beds. All pre-operative and post-operative work can be done onboard rather than ashore, which minimises the Mercy Ships footprint when operating in busy ports.

The Global Mercy™  is designed to carry out a wide range of surgeries including, maxillofacial and reconstructive surgery, tumour removal, cleft lip and palate repair, plastics, orthopaedic surgery, cataract removal, and obstetric fistula repair.

More about the mission of the Global Mercy here

Details, illustrations and Global Mercy Infographics

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

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Kathy and Sinclair Carter from Whangamata initially volunteered with Mercy Ships for three months. Semi-retired, they felt this was a perfect opportunity to do something more with their skills: Sinclair has a maritime engineering background and Kathy has worked in healthcare. When COVID-19 prevented overseas travel and new volunteers could not get to the Africa Mercy, the couple willingly extended their stay onboard – not once, not twice, but THREE times, to cover essential technical crew needs as COVID-19 made the passage of incoming volunteers very difficult.

Sinclair Carter, second engineer onboard the Africa Mercy, has worked on ships for most of his life, like his father and grandfather before him. He and his wife Kathy joined the ship in Dakar and sailed the ship to Tenerife when the global situation meant the field service was paused.

The Carters are part of the 130-strong crew preparing the ship for our return to field service in West Africa in 2021. “The community onboard is caring,” reflects Sinclair, “Very supportive of one another—it’s like a big extended family and we have made so many amazing memories here.”

Deck and engineering administrator Kathy Carter has worked as a nurse and more recently in the corporate environment in healthcare. When she and Sinclair joined the Africa Mercy in Senegal, they both wanted to use their skills to help those less fortunate. “The experience has been both humbling (watching the bravery and dignity of the patients) as well as life-changing, as we live within this amazing community,”she shares.

Thank you for your service Kathy and Sinclair—we would not be able to do what we do, without people like you!

There are a range of volunteer opportunities available in 2021 when Mercy Ships returns to Senegal. Why not find YOUR place onboard?

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

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: A Volunteer Story

Local Eye doctor Gestrude receiving yag laser training by Dr Glenn Strauss

Imagine a child whose life has been spent in shadows and darkness because of a simple cataract. For most people in developed nations, a quick trip to the eye specialist would resolve this issue, but for those who have little to no access to quality healthcare, their world continues to dim.

For over 40 years, Mercy Ships has been dedicated to providing hope and healing to those in need. Still, our mission would be impossible without the dedicated volunteers who join us on our hospital ship to provide surgical and medical care. Today, we want to honor one such volunteer — Dr Glenn Strauss.

Dr Strauss joined the Mercy Ships volunteer family back in 1997 as an ophthalmologist with the Caribbean Mercy. Over the years, he and his wife Kim continued to support and volunteer their skills for short-term missions, helping many find healing where there once was none.

After years of serving, Dr Strauss and his wife decided to close their practice at home and commit their lives to serve with Mercy Ships full time.

“We felt like we were in a position where we had a lot of years that we could really be offering our best,” Dr Strauss said. “Sort of the ‘first fruits’ idea, where we want to offer our best to the Lord. So we joined full time.”

Dr Strauss and his wife became involved full time in 2005, where they developed Mercy Vision — a training program incorporating spiritual and medical skills training for surgeons and paramedical workers of Central America and sub-Saharan Africa.

While serving with Mercy Ships, Dr Strauss had the opportunity to perform the very first surgery onboard our current ship, the Africa Mercy, but he never forgot his first passion — teaching others. For years, Dr Strauss had the opportunity to train professionals in countries where medical training was nearly impossible to find. Over time, those students began to teach others, resulting in even more healing.

“I had ‘grandchildren’, essentially since the surgeons that I had trained, were now training surgeons in Africa,” Dr Strauss said. “They were being very effective. And so there was a desire to see if we could maybe scale that or incorporate that into some of the other mentoring work that was being done with Mercy Ships.”

Eventually, his passion for educating and training took him away from the surgical table and into the classroom. Dr Strauss’s last surgery was the final one for the 2019/2020 field service, which was cut short due to COVID-19. Now, Dr Strauss has the opportunity as the Programs Medical Capacity Building Director to share his experience in theatre with even more medical professionals.

“What is so interesting to me is that I’ve been part of the story of the Africa Mercy for all these years, and have been able to build a training program in ophthalmology that I believe has been effective both spiritually and professionally with the surgeons that I’ve been working with,” he shared. “Now I have the opportunity to expand that into other areas within Mercy Ships with the new training programs we are developing for our future projects. I think it’s exciting to see that there’s a new area we’re able to tap into. To go far beyond what we’ve been able to do so far.”

We are so thankful for those like Dr Strauss, whose dedication to the mission of hope and healing will see generations changed.

There are so many ways to support the missions close to your heart this #WorldHumanitarianDay — whether through volunteer work, support, or advocacy, you can change your world by taking action. Join us in our mission of bringing hope and healing to those in need by visiting www.mercyships.org.nz/volunteer

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VIDEO: Kees, a volunteer mechanical fitter, tells it like it is from the Africa Mercy shipyard maintenance phase, in the midst of quarantine

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When Benessa* 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 Benessa’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, Benessa’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 Benessa’s differences, which led to bullying and name-calling. They would call her ‘sick’ and avoid playing with her because they were afraid. As a result, Benessa 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 Benessa’s mother.

With a heavy shroud of insecurity and fear surrounding Benessa, 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, Benessa’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 Benessa had carried for years. In the weeks following her operation, Benessa spent time onboard being showered in love and friendship by the crew, nurses and other patients. Freed from worry, the sweet five-year-old slowly emerged from her shell, and her inner diamond began to shine through.

Thanks to her growing confidence, Benessa is no longer afraid to start school and her Mum is filled with joy.

‘When we came to the ship for the first time, I was just thanking God over and over,’ said Benessa’s mother. ‘There is no gift greater than good health.’                     *Benessa was also known onboard by her nickname M-muh