How Project HOPE Works

By: Dave Roos
Victims of the 2004 tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia are treated by Project HOPE workers at sea in the Indian Ocean.
Victims of the 2004 tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia are treated by Project HOPE workers at sea in the Indian Ocean.
U.S. Navy/Getty Images

In 1958, a young doctor and World War II veteran named William B. Walsh convinced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to donate a mothballed Navy medical vessel to a new peacetime mission: to provide essential medical care and health education to the world's most vulnerable populations.

Walsh named his endeavor Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere). Over the next 15 years, the ship would dock on the coasts of 11 countries, providing check-ups for expecting mothers, vaccines for infants, surgeries, medications, health care worker training and community education programs for the prevention and treatment of common, yet deadly diseases.


Since 1974, Project HOPE has evolved into a global land-based charity running health education classes, worker training, hospitals and medical clinics in dozens of countries on every continent.

Project HOPE continues to be a crucial charitable resource in a world suffering from a desperate shortage of health care workers. In Africa, for example, only 1 percent of the world's doctors and nurses are battling 25 percent of the world's total disease burden.

Project HOPE is doubly effective because it combines its relief missions with extensive training of local workers. To date, the organization is estimated to have trained over 2 million health care workers worldwide.

Read more about the history of Project HOPE and what you can do to help the cause, starting on the next page.


History of Project HOPE

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:]. 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.


What Project HOPE Does

Six weeks after the 2004 tsunami, one can barely tell where the sea ends and the Banda Aceh, Indonesia shoreline begins.
Six weeks after the 2004 tsunami, one can barely tell where the sea ends and the Banda Aceh shoreline begins.
U.S. Navy/Getty Images

Across the globe, Project HOPE engages with government health officials, non-governmental relief organizations (NGOs), local healthcare workers and community members to provide crucial health resources to some of the world's most vulnerable people, particularly women and children.

Project HOPE concentrates its efforts in five core areas: infectious disease, women and children's health, health professional education, health systems and facilities, and humanitarian assistance. Not every Project HOPE initiative will address each of these core areas: Each project is designed to maximize its effectiveness by targeting the most pressing health issues of a particular region.


Sustainability is a theme that runs throughout all of Project HOPE's international work. The idea is not to simply arrive with a team of doctors, treat only the sickest patients and then rush off to the next country. Project HOPE employees and volunteers target every level of a country's health care system. They treat patients, train doctors, help governments design more effective healthcare infrastructures and draft public health campaigns to educate community members on disease prevention.

One of Project HOPE's most effective long-term strategies is something called the "trainer of trainers" model. The organization believes that one of the best ways to distribute health information into poor rural communities is to train local healthcare workers to become trainers themselves.

As the healthcare workers receive essential training in combating preventable infectious diseases and treating and managing symptoms of chronic ailments, they're also trained in health education techniques. This allows them to go into the communities and train "community health workers" who can be local resources for vital health information.

Since places like Africa are experiencing a drastic doctor shortage -- an estimated 1 million health care workers are needed across the continent -- these community health workers become essential resources for villages without ready access to doctors or hospitals.

In India, where 40 million people suffer from diabetes, Project HOPE launched the multi-million dollar India Diabetes Educator Project. In Asia and the Middle East, there's a focus on educating health professionals, policymakers and NGOs about leading health threats like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, avian influenza, women's cancers and diabetes. Across the board, there's an emphasis on the deadliest, most preventable conditions like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and malnourishment.

In addition to its fieldwork, Project HOPE also publishes the "Health Affairs Journal," one of the leading international health policy journals.

Next, we'll talk about how you can help Project HOPE.


Helping Project HOPE

The headquarters of Project HOPE is located in Millwood, Va., but the organization is currently running projects in more than 30 countries around the world. Because of the scope of its efforts, Project HOPE is continuously soliciting qualified employees, volunteers and interns.

Project HOPE isn't exclusively looking for doctors or even people with medical backgrounds. Among its current job openings are positions for accountants, budget analysts, communications directors and marketing managers. Several positions require a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree.


There are frequent internships available for medical students or students pursuing an MPH degree. As for volunteers, Project HOPE is always looking for experienced, compassionate doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to work abroad. Sometimes Project HOPE will provide room, board and travel expenses.

Interested applicants for paid and unpaid positions are encouraged to submit an online application indicating their specific areas of interest and expertise. Project HOPE maintains a database of applicants and draws from that talent pool when new opportunities arise.

Even if you can't donate your time to Project HOPE, you can offer financial assistance through cash donations. Donations help pay for vaccines, training materials and the transportation costs associated with shipping donated medical supplies.

For example, a donation of $25 could pay for training materials for 10 community health workers to prevent, recognize and treat common illnesses. $100 could train seven community health workers to train mothers to recognize potentially deadly childhood illnesses. $500 could fund six microloans for women who want to start small businesses, raise their standard of living and improve their ability to provide health care for their families.

Project HOPE is proud of its financial stewardship. In fiscal year 2008, 92 percent of its total expenses went directly to health care education, humanitarian aid and health policy efforts, leaving only 8 percent for administrative costs. In 2008, Project HOPE's annual expenses were over $159 million, but it raised more than $174 million in donations [source: Better Business Bureau]. More than $14 million of those donations came from private individuals.

Project HOPE benefits from strategic partnerships with industry leaders and government organizations. Let's explore these partnerships on the next page.


Project HOPE Partners

Former President George W. Bush visits Army Brigadier General William Fox, Jr. at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Former President George W. Bush visits Army Brigadier General William Fox, Jr. at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. General Fox, the CEO of Project HOPE, was injured while building a cancer facility for children in Basra, Iraq.
The White House/Getty Images

Nearly all of the medical supplies and equipment used on Project HOPE's international missions are donated by some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry: Merck, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Wyeth, Schering-Plough, Bristol-Meyers Squib, Johnson & Johnson, 3M and many more.

In 2008, these partners combined to donate $119 million in corporate gifts-in-kind. Merck, for example, has donated one million hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines to Project HOPE missions since 1999. Most recently, the vaccines have been used to immunize healthcare workers in Central Asia and Russia.


Project HOPE also works with corporate partners who offer financial and volunteer support as well as marketing assistance. Companies like Boeing, ExxonMobil, 7-Eleven and Morgan Stanley help spread the word about the organization through product marketing and outreach efforts.

On an international level, Project HOPE is a member of several global aid networks, including InterAction, Global Impact, Partnership for Quality Medical Donations, AlertNet and others that help coordinate the work of dozens of independent charities. These larger networks ensure that the resources of each member organization are being used most effectively and that no group duplicates the efforts of another.

In the mid-1990s, Germany and the United Kingdom launched their own privately incorporated versions of Project HOPE, named Project HOPE Germany and Project HOPE United Kingdom. They coordinate with the U.S. organization to raise money and organize joint medical missions.

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Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Better Business Bureau. "BBB Wise Giving Report: Project HOPE." (July 31, 2009)
  • Dicke, William. "William B. Walsh, Founder of Project HOPE, Dies at 76." The New York Times. December 28, 2009 (July 31, 2009)
  • People to People International. "History." (July 31, 2009)
  • Ramos, George. "William B. Walsh; Launched Project HOPE in Hospital Ship." The Los Angeles Times. December 31, 1996 (July 31, 2009)