USNS Comfort Brings ‘Continuing Promise’ Humanitarian Mission to El Salvador
By Dialogo June 29, 2015When will they open up access through Sogamosoa Yopal?
Physicians aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort are providing medical and dental care to thousands of Salvadorans at the halfway point of the “Continuing Promise” (CP-15) humanitarian mission. The U.S. Navy ship dropped anchor on June 15 at the Port of Acajutla in El Salvador before hundreds of children and parents who look to this mission to seek free medical and dental care.
The anxiously awaited two-week medical outreach campaign began when physicians from different branches of the United States Armed Forces descended from the ship. They'll provide health care to 12,000 Salvadoran nationals – 600 appointments per day – and perform 100 surgeries in the ship’s modern facilities.
“We are thrilled to be in El Salvador,” said CP-15 mission commander Captain Sam Hancock. “This is the sixth of 11 stops, and we will work here together with our Salvadoran partners and colleagues to provide medical assistance and relief to those who need it.”
Doctors will conduct surgeries in four of the 12 operating rooms on board the hospital ship. The vessel is equipped with rooms for brain surgery, an intensive care unit, and facilities to take X-rays and store blood. There is also a heliport above deck to quickly transport patients when necessary. Medical personnel on the ship will provide treatment in gynecology, orthopedics, pediatrics, physical therapy, cardiology, and dentistry.
An historic moment
The arrival of the Comfort is an historic moment in the history of military cooperation El Salvador and the United States have developed over decades, said Salvadoran Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés.
“We have received the visit of an extraordinary Naval unit from an allied nation with a shining history of humanitarian assistance,” Munguía Payés said. “And now we Salvadorans have the privilege of benefiting from their goodwill with significant aid to our people.”
Planning for the humanitarian mission began in 2014. The USNS Comfort left the state of Virginia in late March and has already stopped in Belize, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Jamaica. The vessel sails the coasts of Latin America and the Caribbean for a period of six months every two years, with about 1,000 U.S. Navy doctors, nurses, and dentists.
This humanitarian initiative began in 2007. CP-15 is the seventh such mission carried out under the guidance of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
Physicians aboard the ship will provide medical and dental care to Salvadorans until June 25. In the coming months the vessel and its physicians will travel to Colombia, Barbados, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Haiti to continue providing medical care. CP-15 is scheduled to conclude its mission in September.
Treatment and gratitude
As soon as the vessel arrived in El Salvador, physicians and dentists aboard the vessel set up a medical base at the Dr. Eduardo Enrique Barrientos School Center, in the department of Sonsonate, to begin providing medical and dental services to Salvadorans.
On the morning of June 17, as classical music played in the background courtesy of the famous United States Fleet Forces Brass Band Uncharted Waters, patients waited calmly for their turn to see the doctors and dentists.
María Paz Pérez, 25, brought her 8-month-old daughter, Sofía, who had a fever the previous few nights.
“I wouldn’t know how to explain how thankful I am for these doctors, who have come so far to help us,” Pérez said through tears. “They’ve already examined my daughter. She has an ear infection, and they gave me medicine to cure it. This is priceless for a poor, single mother like me.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Juan Antonio Díaz, a former carpenter in his 70s who suffers from arthritis in his hands and lives in an impoverished and remote area of the municipality of Acajutla.
“I trust what this good doctor has prescribed for the pain in my hands; I had truly lost faith. I am very grateful for how lovingly they have treated me, and for the medicine they have given me. God bless them.”
To facilitate communications between patients and doctors, 120 university students served as interpreters at each appointment.
“This is an experience I will never forget. I am helping these good doctors to alleviate the suffering of my countrymen,” said Juan Marcos Martínez, a student at the University of El Salvador (UES). “The patients’ gratitude and happiness for the help they’ve received show on their faces. These are two feelings I’m sure the doctors understand without my assistance.”
Acajutla Mayor Hugo Arriola said the people waited several months for this mission, ever since they learned the ship’s arrival date. “So I extended my sincerest gratitude to those who made this dream possible.”
Dozens of domestic and foreign journalists also visit the port every day to view the impressive ship and the scope of the humanitarian mission.
Professional and cultural exchange
In addition to providing medical and dental care to thousands of Salvadorans, the mission also has an educational component, not only for physicians but also veterinarians. For example, seminars are planned for mission partners and NGOs about women’s health, vector management, and education about mosquitoes for personnel at the Central Military Hospital and the Jorge Mazzini Hospital in the department of Sonsonate.
In addition, a team of U.S. veterinarians, working with their Salvadoran counterparts, will visit communities in throughout the department to provide treatment for farm animals and pets.
Unchartered Waters will perform various concerts in the municipalities of Santa Ana, Sonsonate and San Salvador, as well as during each of the outreach events, so the patients and other residents can enjoy the band's extensive musical repertoire.
“We cannot wait to work with our friends and partners during this part of our mission to strengthen our ties in support of the lasting friendship between the United States and El Salvador,” Capt. Hancock said. “This friendship underscores our common values, our interests, and our commitment to this unit and to regional security.”