U.S. Hospital Ship USNS Comfort Provides Relief in Peru
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo November 26, 2018U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) concluded its medical assistance mission on Peru’s northern coast as part of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Enduring Promise mission, November 5, 2018. The mission is part of the U.S. government’s continuous efforts to strengthen cooperation and bonds of friendship with Peru through several humanitarian aid programs.
For five days, the ship’s crew of more than 900 health professionals, nurses, and military technicians from the United States and partner nations such as Argentina, Canada, and Chile cared for 6,229 patients in Piura and Tumbes provinces. The mission marked the USNS Comfort’s third deployment in Peruvian waters. Comfort visited Paita district in 2011 and made a stop in Salaverry district in 2007 to assist thousands of patients.
“Comfort’s visit demonstrates the strong bonds of friendship between Peru and the United States,” said Peruvian Navy Rear Admiral (ret.) Santiago Llop Meseguer, cabinet chief of the Minister’s Office at the Peruvian Ministry of Defense. “It also shows the generosity of the U.S. government. The mission expands humanitarian relief in a region that was badly hit by the El Niño phenomenon.”
Professionals aboard USNS Comfort provided medical and surgical treatments that restored a smile to Pedro Daniel (see video), a 7-year-old who had surgery to repair his cleft palate on the ship in 2011 and again in 2018. The latest surgery was one of the 106 surgical procedures carried out on board.
Pedro Daniel and his mother, Petronila Eche Panta, traveled more than 50 kilometers from Sechura to Piura after learning that USNS Comfort would visit the Peruvian coast. “I couldn't believe it. God is with my son. With this surgery, his treatment comes to an end. Now he can speak well,” Eche Panta told Diálogo. “I’m happy because I’ll be able to raise my hand in the room to participate, like the rest of my classmates. In two weeks I'll be back in school, and now they will understand my words,” Pedro Daniel told Diálogo.
“Pedro Daniel’s case is an example of relieving pain in a person who doesn’t have the resources to get medical assistance,” Rear Adm. Llop said. “The child was able to heal thanks to SOUTHCOM’s humanitarian efforts to complete his treatment.”
In addition to Peruvian citizens, Venezuelan immigrants benefited from preventive medicine, gastroenterology, pediatrics, ophthalmology, and dentistry services. According to a November 8, 2018 press release from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 500,000 Venezuelans have entered Peru seeking better living conditions since January 2017. Health teams provided services in the Juan Valer Sandoval and San Alfonso land-based medical sites in Piura.
Identifying with the mission
“Statistically speaking, we could say the same things, but here Peruvians identified more with the work of the hospital ship, because three of Comfort’s doctors are from the Peruvian Armed Forces: a gastroenterologist, a pediatrician, and an ophthalmologist, all aboard the ship since it left Virginia,” said Rear Adm. Llop. “This allowed things to be different.”
Peruvian youth helped U.S. doctors overcome the language barrier, interpreting during the medical mission. Medical students from northern Peru also helped diagnose patients to prescribe adequate treatment.
In addition to medical assistance, the U.S. government donated orthopedic and clinical equipment to the Peruvian Ministry of Health valued at $400,000. The donation will assist children and adults with physical conditions and help provide wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and canes, among others, to people with limited resources.
Thanks and cooperation
Peru was thankful for the ship’s visit, the operations, and the donated medicine. “The happiness and quality of assistance USNS Comfort’s crew provided to citizens and the contribution of the Peruvians who made this medical event possible deserve our deepest respect,” Rear Adm. Llop said. “We are ready to support other initiatives like this.”
“It’s about helping people; interacting with them. Helping them while they receive medical care is a satisfying experience. I want to thank God and the [U.S.] Navy for letting me have this opportunity,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Manuel Aponte Blanco, head of the hospital and lab technician assigned to USNS Comfort. Chief Petty Officer Aponte was born in Peru and serves in the U.S. Navy for the last 18 years.
“These activities help us because they allow us to train with other resources and give us the opportunity to prepare to support risk and disaster management. We want the United States to know that we are a strategic partner,” Rear Adm. Llop concluded.