When Dr. William B. Walsh served as a young Navy medical officer aboard a destroyer in the South Pacific during WWII, he was shocked to witness so much death and suffering -- particularly by children -- from highly preventable and treatable diseases. He was also one of the first American doctors to witness the devastation of Hiroshima and treat wounded Japanese civilians [source: Ramos].
Touched by these powerful wartime experiences, Walsh began to envision a peacetime medical ship -- a floating hospital -- that would travel the world providing free medical care for those with little or no access to doctors or hospitals.
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the President's People to People Program, reflecting his belief that "peaceful relations between nations require understanding and mutual respect between individuals" [source: PTPI.org]. When President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1958, Dr. Walsh, now a cardiologist, was called in as a consultant. The two men became friends and the president asked Walsh to join the People to People Program as co-chairman of the health committee [source: Dicke].
In exchange, Eisenhower helped Walsh acquire a retired Navy medical vessel called the U.S.S. Consolation and rename it the S.S. HOPE. Walsh's floating hospital, stocked with donated goods and staffed by volunteers, made 11 health education and humanitarian service missions between 1960 and 1973: Indonesia, Vietnam, Peru, Ecuador, Guinea, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Tunisia, Jamaica and Brazil.
In 1974, Project HOPE shifted its focus away from the maritime model toward a more expansive and ambitious land-based mission. Since then, the organization has provided health education, medical training and patient care in over 90 countries around the world.
By the time Walsh passed away in 1996, he'd received dozens of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Americas Award, the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal and the National Order of Merit from France [source: Dicke].
In 2005, Project HOPE teamed with the U.S. Navy to run an emergency medical mission to the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The two organizations joined forces to run 10 more medical and humanitarian missions, including trips to the U.S. Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The Navy/Project HOPE partnership is estimated to have treated more than 300,000 people in 27 countries.
Now let's take a closer look at exactly how Project HOPE increases access to health information and medical care for the world's most marginalized citizens.