07 June 2008

USNS Mercy Mission Forms Partnerships, Provides Medical Help

Forming partnerships with host and partner nations while offering medical assistance are key elements provided during the Pacific Partnership 2008 deployment aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy, the ship's civil service master said yesterday.

Since deploying May 1, Mercy has visited three provinces in the Philippines and is expected to visit four other countries.

"The planning of this mission began many, many months ago, and it began by the requests of the host nations to partner with them to provide humanitarian assistance and civil assistance," Navy Capt. James P. Rice, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility aboard Mercy, said in a teleconference with online journalists and bloggers.

Rice said many host-nation health care providers operate side by side with the Mercy staff.

"We have networked with the local health care system and the ministries of health to [ensure after-care is provided] to transition those patients into their health care system," Rice added.

During the deployment, Mercy also will visit Vietnam, East Timor and Micronesia, offering medical assistance, repairing infrastructures and providing donated medical equipment for the host nation's use.

"This is a full-service hospital with everything you would expect to find in a hospital back home," Rice said. "We have lots of capability to include medicine, pediatrics and surgery, as well as the ability to put people in the host nation and provide medical and dental care ashore."

Since their stop in the Philippines, Mercy's crew has seen more than 14,000 patients through medical and dental civil action programs ashore. Aboard Mercy, some 200 surgeries have been performed and 400 patients have been seen.

Civil service master Capt. Robert T. Wiley, commanding officer of Mercy, said many miracles have taken place aboard Mercy, such as a surgery that allowed a young boy with a crippling injury to walk.

"Six years ago, he was injured in a bomb explosion and his right leg was bent at the knee," Wiley said. "They did skin grafts and orthopedic surgery, and they got the leg to straighten."

He added that yesterday, in physical therapy aboard Mercy, the 14-year old boy walked for the first time with crutches.

Other miracles are being performed, such as 53 cleft lip palate surgeries performed by Operation Smile, or the 22-pound tumor recently removed from a Filipina woman, Wiley said. "In 2006, aboard Mercy, we took out a larger tumor, which was close to 30 or 40 pounds," he added.

The crew of Mercy is thrilled to participate in the Pacific Partnership 2008 mission, the ship's civil service master said.

"People who go to medical school and decide to wear the uniform are so excited about being here," he said. "This is their mission; they are at the tip of the spear and are extremely excited about this."

Accompanying the Mercy crew are doctors and dentists from Japan, Canada and Australia, but as the deployment continues, they will be welcoming medical practitioners from Chili, Portugal, Singapore and Indonesia. Nongovernmental organizations, such as Project HOPE also are accompanying the crew of Mercy.

"This is a great value to work together on a humanitarian basis, ... to prepare us to work together in a disaster situation where we already know each other and [will] be comfortable working together," Rice said.

Rice explained other capabilities Mercy also brings to the countries it visits.

"We have brought preventive medicine and environmental health providers on board to help with sanitation inspections and other public health preventative medicine programs," Rice said.

Mercy also has veterinarians aboard, performing important work on animals, which are a defining component of some host nations' economic stability, he added.

Construction battalion engineers round out the crew. They are actively engaged in a variety of projects ranging from repairing roofs and schools to replacing windows.

"All this will have an impact on their educational ability. By having a nice structure that will allow them to educate their children, there will be a long-term benefit," Rice said.

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.

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