A restored face

Tumours, Noma, Cleft lip and palate

Deformities in Developing Nations

Why is the need so extreme?

For the poor in developing nations, accessing necessary medical and surgical care is extremely difficult due to their remote location, lack of medical facilities and financial constraints. Conditions that would be treated in the early stages in developed nations grow to the point of being life-threatening. The consequence for many is a lifetime of disability and rejection, and sometimes even death.

Patient Yaya


Disfiguring tumours often begin as small growths but can develop into lethal maladies as a person struggles to breathe or eat. Often, these individuals become social outcasts because of their disfigurement.


Cleft lip and palate

Cleft lip and/or palate is a condition easily repaired in the developed world, but cleft-lip babies born in developing countries are often malnourished because they cannot feed properly. Children who do survive are often rejected because of their deformity.

maxillofacial patient

Noma (Oral Disease)

Not seen in the Western world since concentration camps, noma, or cancrum oris, is an infectious disease destroying oro-facial tissues. Predominantly affecting children, the disease advances quickly, spreading to the nose, lips and cheeks. Though both preventable and treatable, thousands die from the condition each year. Those who survive are left with horrendous disfigurement.

Transformed lives through surgery onboard


Mercy Ships partners with the local medical community in each country to identify surgical candidates. In onboard operating theatres, highly skilled surgeons perform thousands of free maxillofacial, general and reconstructive operations, transforming and saving lives.

Recovery & Counselling

Patients recuperate under world-class care in the ship’s hospital ward, where they are also provided with opportunity for moral and spiritual support. Mercy Ships aims to provide a caring, holistic environment to facilitate patient recovery.

Training, Capacity Building & Prevention

Mercy Ships collaborates with local governments and ministries of health to improve national healthcare infrastructure.

Mercy Ships partners with local surgeons and nurses to provide training and educational opportunities in appropriate techniques. In addition, Mercy Ships contributes to the long-term eradication of preventable diseases and resulting extreme conditions by conducting community health education programmes.


Performed more than 108,000 life-changing, and often life-saving, operations such as cleft lip and palate repair and maxillofacial surgery.



  • Cleft lip and palate is the number-one facial birth defect, affecting around one in 500-700 of all live births. (Source: WHO).
  • Noma is a disease of poverty. About 70-90% of noma cases are fatal without treatment. Africa remains the hardest-hit continent where this preventable disease mainly strikes children under six years old (Source: WHO).
“I saw a documentary about 15 years ago in a hotel room and I sat down on the end of the bed and wept and a voice inside me said ‘one day you will serve on that ship’ it never left me and came to mind often in big and small ways."