CARIBBEAN – The U.S. navy hospital ship USNS Comfort began a four-month humanitarian deployment to seven countries in the Caribbean to provide free medical, dental and veterinary treatment. It will also give technical support for engineering projects in isolated rural communities.
As reported by the Dominican daily, Primicias, the Continuing Promise 2009 mission is organised by the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command. Its first stop will be Haiti, followed by the Dominican Republic, Antigua, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, and finally, Nicaragua.
The 800-strong crew counts with 400 civilian volunteer professionals including 20 surgeons, as well numerous military doctors, engineers and invited partners from Canada, Chile, Spain, El Salvador, France, the Netherlands and Nicaragua, reported EFE.
Primicias noted that, apart from military personnel, there are also numerous volunteers from charitable organisations such as Project Hope – an international education and health aid organisation; Operation Smile – a worldwide charity to improve the lives of children born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial malformations; and Food for the Poor – a top US NGO committed to food, health and education projects.
The participating organisations all share the common goal of bringing medical attention to the underprivileged. The medical team includes professionals from the US Public Health Service and dental students from the University of Miami and the University of South California which also donated the dental equipment on board the ship.
According to EFE, medical services offered during the mission include general surgery, eye operations, general medical care, dental treatment and basic public health training. There will also be technical support for a number of engineering and construction projects.
Before heading for the Dominican Republic, Continuing Promise Mission Commander Capt. Robert G. Lineberry Jr. told Primicias: “We previously arranged with Dominican health authorities and have studied their immediate needs in terms of medical and surgical attention”.
Capt. Lineberry added: “Our team also includes 21 engineers who will be deployed once we arrive in Santo Domingo to carry out construction tasks in rural communities”.
The 10-story ship has 12 state-of-the-art surgery blocks, a CAT scan unit, and magnetic resonance equipment. The facilities can handle up to 1,000 patients per day.
Ship's Master Capt. Thomas J. Finger, told Primicias, “For many of us this will be one of the most important missions in our military career after having served in the first Gulf War and Iraq”.