Fistula patients celebrate following successful surgery on board the Africa Mercy in Guinea.
Fistula patients celebrate following successful surgery on board the Africa Mercy in Guinea. Contributed

Ships bring surgery to change women's lives

THROUGH the simple act of enjoying a cup of tea and a biscuit, you could change a West African woman's life.

Mercy Ships, an organisation that dispatches hospital ships to some of the world's poorest regions, is asking for your help to raise awareness and funds for women's health issues in West Africa by participating in Mercy Monday in May.

"The birth of a child should be joyful, but for many women in developing nations, it's the beginning of a downward spiral into pain, loneliness and poverty," Mercy Ships Australia CEO Gary Regazzoli said.

"For those without access to routine medical or surgical care during and after delivery, chronic medical issues such as incontinence can lead to spousal abandonment and community ostracism."

These medical problems - fistulas (the collapse of the tissue separating the vagina and bladder and/or rectum) - are relatively unknown in Western countries where caesarean sections are widely available.

They occur during prolonged or difficult labours, and they can have devastating physical, emotional and spiritual consequences.

"West Africa holds some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The statistics show that a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a one-in-16 chance of dying during pregnancy, compared to a one in 13,300 risk for a woman in Australia," Mr Regazzoli said.

"Mercy Ships wants to do more to lower the alarming statistics associated with deaths and injuries during childbirth in Africa and help prevent these issues from occurring in the first place, so while our surgeons are treating those who have childbirth injuries, other health care professionals are training local doctors, nurses and other medical staff in better management of women's health."

Coinciding with International Nurses Day, National Volunteer Week and Mother's Day, Mercy Monday on May 13 will help Mercy Ships complete its 2013 field services in the African nations of Guinea and the Republic of the Congo.

Events can be of any size and held at any time during May. Mercy Ships will provide you with everything you need to host an event, such as invitations, a DVD, brochures and other materials.

Register your interest in hosting an event by phoning the national office, which is in Caloundra, on 5437 2992 or go to


Mercy Ships volunteer nurse Robyn Ferguson and fistula patient Mamata.
Mercy Ships volunteer nurse Robyn Ferguson and fistula patient Mamata.



Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development to those without access in the developing world.

Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, with more than 2.35 million direct beneficiaries.

Each year, more than 1,200 volunteers from over 40 nations serve with Mercy Ships.

Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort.

Mercy Ships promotes health and well-being by serving the urgent medical needs of the forgotten poor.

Mercy Ships Australia, one of 16 international support offices, is based on the Sunshine Coast.

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