Published: May 27, 2021

Humanitarian Travel Grant: Head and Neck Surgical Care aboard Africa Mercy

Global surgery is a critical component of humanitarian efforts within low-resource countries.

Allen L. Feng, MD

Global surgery is a critical component of humanitarian efforts within low-resource countries. With the surgical burden of global disease being 30%1, this need remains ever present. The Africa Mercy, a 500-foot floating hospital operated by Mercy Ships, is an international charity that helps fulfill this need. Africa Mercy represents the largest nongovernment hospital ship in the world, housing over 400 crew members and featuring five operating rooms, an intensive care unit, and beds for up to 82 patients. Crew members serve on a volunteer basis from countries all over the world with a unified goal of treating underserved patients while traveling along Africa’s west coast. They treat several conditions, including a wide array of head and neck tumors. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work aboard the Africa Mercy with Mark G. Shrime, MD, in large part thanks to an AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Travel Grant.

03 Bites Humanitarian Travel Grant Mercy ShipsDuring my time aboard the Africa Mercy, we were able to provide high-quality head and neck surgical care to patients while docked in Dakar, Senegal. Although we were on Africa’s west coast, patients travelled from all over continental Africa to receive care that they would otherwise be unable to obtain. We treated patients with a wide array of pathologies—from ameloblastomas to extensive noma defects—and had the opportunity to share our experience with local surgeons. The streamlined operations of the Africa Mercy made it possible to efficiently treat a large number of patients within a short period of time. Working with a diverse group of healthcare providers from around the world was also a humbling experience. Just as important were the lessons I learned about implementing a successful global surgery initiative. I hope to carry these lessons with me as I continue global surgery efforts throughout my career.


1.    Shrime MG, Bickler SW, Alkire BC, Mock C. Global Burden of Surgical Disease: An Estimation From the Provider Perspective. Lancet Glob Health. 2015 Apr 27. 3 Suppl 2, S8-9.