Grotesque and disfiguring tumours are not uncommon in the developing countries of Africa. Often benign, the growths begin small, but left untreated, grow to life-threatening size and render their victims social outcasts. In onboard operating theatres, highly skilled surgeons perform thousands of free maxillo-facial surgeries, transforming faces and saving lives from suffocation and starvation. With each individual life restored, the transformation is no less than miraculous.
Tens of thousands of children are born with cleft lip and/or palate every year. It is a condition easily repaired in the developed world, but babies born in the developing world have little option for corrective surgery. Cleft-lip babies often suffer from malnourishment because they cannot suck or nurse properly. Children who do survive are often rejected because of their deformity. Mercy Ships has restored the smiles of thousands of children and adults.
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, most of those afflicted with the ravenous disease have no access to even basic health care, and thousands die from the condition each year. Those who survive are left with not only disfigurement, but also experience difficulty eating, breathing and swallowing.
Mercy Ships also contributes towards the eradication of noma through community health education, dental programs and agricultural training. Poverty, malnutrition, poor oral hygiene, lack of sanitation, and diseases, particularly measles, all increase the risk of noma.