The never-before-seen on TV director’s cut of the award-winning documentary The Surgery Ship aired for the first time anywhere in the world on 7TWO in July. The Surgery Ship features several Australian medical volunteers including nurse Deb Louden from Toowoomba.

Featuring 24 minutes of additional footage and previously unaired patient and volunteer stories, the feature-length documentary was filmed in Guinea, West Africa and follows life aboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the MV Africa Mercy.

One of those patient stories cut from the original documentary and seen here for the first time is that of Alya Camera, a young boy with a tumour that impacts his airway and threatens to suffocate him within just weeks. Alya is successfully operated on in a procedure that literally saves the child’s life.

The Africa Mercy’s volunteers face profound professional and emotional challenges like Alya’s as they attempt to treat curious diseases they’ve seldom seen outside their textbooks. Health conditions such as benign tumours, cleft palates and bowlegs, that in the Western World would be treated early, are commonplace in Africa and often left unchecked for decades, leaving people to suffer unnecessarily.

More than 70% of the world’s population is unable to access essential surgery, according to the Lancet’s study on access to surgical care. As a result, more than 17 million people die needlessly each year, and many common, treatable illnesses become life-threatening. Other volunteers on The Surgery Ship included ENT surgeon Neil Thomson from Gosford, plastic surgeon Nerida Moore from Yowie Bow in New South Wales, and Cairns physiotherapist Nick Veltjens.

The documentary was made with the support of Screen Australia and Screen NSW. Produced by the award-winning team at Media Stockade in Sydney, the film is an uncompromising look at the consequences of lives lived without access to modern medicine and the ethical challenges in trying to help.

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