The world's largest civilian hospital ship - the Africa Mercy - returns to Madagascar this week to commence a 10 month stint in what is one of the world's least developed nations.

The ship, owned by global Christian organisation Mercy Ships, was last in Madagascar off the south-east coast of Africa in June when it completed a nine month stay aimed at helping local people with a range of medical issues before heading to the South African port of Durban for its annual regime of repairs, inspections and maintenance.

ON A MISSION: The Africa Mercy, which is returning to Madagascar, pictured there during its last visit. PICTURE: Mercy Ships

"My eyes have been opened to a world full of injustices, where people die before their time. My heart is heavy as I can't help everyone but I am witness to miracles and blessings on a daily basis."

- Canberra-based intensive care nurse Shannon Rutledge who served on the Africa Mercy the last time it was in Madagascar.

Alan Burrell, the managing director of Mercy Ships Australia, said Mercy Ships decided to accept an invitation from Madagascar's Government to return to the island nation thanks to the ongoing need for surgical and general healthcare.

It will now stay 10 months in the port of Tamatave during which time the volunteer crew is expected to provide more than 2,200 on board surgeries to adults and children for a range of conditions, including cleft lip or palate, facial tumours, club feet and broken limbs, cataracts and childbirth injuries. The surgery is provided at no cost to the patient.

The volunteers are also expected to treat 10,000 people at a land-based dental clinic and provide education and training to local healthcare professionals.

The volunteer crew, which includes a number of Australians, all pay for their own expenses while on board, including flights and board.

Among those who volunteered on board the ship during its stay in Madagascar last year was Canberra-based intensive care nurse Shannon Rutledge.

Ms Rutledge spent four months on the ship during which she said she had "seen so much, learnt so much". "My eyes have been opened to a world full of injustices, where people die before their time," she said at the time. "My heart is heavy as I can't help everyone but I am witness to miracles and blessings on a daily basis."

Occupational therapist Margo Coffey, of Brisbane suburb Morningside, was another of those who served on board during the last stint in Madagascar. She said earlier this year that she believed it was a privilege to serve on the ship, "to see the healing and the impact the organisation has firsthand".

"Each patient identifies their goals prior to any intervention and I love being able to see some of these being achieved, for example being able to ride a bike, hold a pen, play basketball, count on their fingers, wear a wedding ring, play on the monkey bars."

Madagascar is one of the world's least developed countries in the world and has a life expectancy of just 64 years. More than 92 per cent of the population lives on just $US2 a day and there are just three physicians for every 10,000 people.

The Africa Mercy will remain in Madagascar until June next year.

Since it was founded by American Don Stephens in 1978, Mercy Ships has provided free medical services valued at more than $US1 billion to more than 2.5 million people.

www.mercyships.org.au