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USNS Comfort Continues Humanitarian Mission in Colombia as Part of Continuing Promise 2015

USNS Comfort Continues Humanitarian Mission in Colombia as Part of Continuing Promise 2015

By Dialogo
July 20, 2015

I like it This is really good for the country since it is going through a huge healthcare crisis. It seems we Colombians don't even have the right to healthcare anymore, no those who pay taxes or those who are subsidized. The whole population is sick. Here in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, we also need the presence of the American Army. WHAT CONTROL OVER DRUG TRAFFICKING? NOW THEY'RE MORE ACTIVE THAN EVER. I like this news article because it is very conclusive. That is my conclusion.

For nearly a week in July, the biggest hospital ship in the world -- the USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) -- provided thousands of Colombians with humanitarian-civil assistance as part of Continuing Promise 2015, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored training mission carried out by the U.S. 4th Fleet and Southern Command Naval forces in 11 nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Starting on July 7th, a group of 65 marine civilians, along with 1,215 professional medics, engineers, veterinarians, and volunteers, participated in the initiative in the port of Buenaventura and the neighboring town of Juanchaco along Colombia’s Pacific Coast. There, they provided humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, disaster response prevention, and medical, dental, veterinary, and engineering support, working alongside the Colombian Navy and the local government.

As of July 12th, the medical team had seen more than 4,000 patients at the Coliseo de Centro and the Himno Institución Educativa in Juanchaco, and they're expected to see around 10,000 by July 18th, the end of the deployment in Colombia. The medical care given daily at these sites from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. included general medicine, pediatrics, dental, optometry and physical therapy for most of the population.

Surgeries for some patients

The medical team also conducted 40 surgeries onboard the USNS Comfort’s 12 operating rooms; a total of 100 were scheduled for the nine days the ship will be docked in Buenaventura; they were selected by Buenaventura’s authorities and the Colombian Navy’s Integral Action division.

“They are people that live on the streets in absolute poverty, people who lack healthcare and opportunities,” said Commander César Augusto Saavedra, the Director of the Navy’s Integral Action division and the organizer of the mission on the Colombian side. The medical operations are meant to have long lasting effects, he added. After receiving treatment through Continuing Promise, these Colombians become automatically signed up in the country’s healthcare system.

Some lives are saved in the process. During the first day of the medical operations, at the Coliseo de Centro, a young man attended by Dr. Coleman Bryan told the crew that he was in for an 8-year follow-up on his condition. The young man had been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, an aggressive type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, during Continuing Promise 2007. On July 9th, USNS Comfort’s LCDR (Dr.) McDivitt performed an echocardiogram as part of the young man’s follow-up. He was now in complete remission, according to CAPT Christine Sears, Commanding Officer of the Medical Treatment Facility aboard USNS Comfort.

“It is incredibly rewarding and inspiring to lead and work alongside the doctors and surgeons to execute the medical portion of the mission and to build stronger relationships with our host nation friends and partners,” CAPT Sears said in an email sent from the ship on July 11th. “The opportunity to do all of this in such a short period of time is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

In addition to the medical side of the mission, the USNS Comfort crew offered veterinary services to the local populations’ pets. On July 8th, a veterinarian clinic was set up in Buenaventura. In the first two days alone, a 6-person team cared for approximately 195 cats and dogs, according to CPT Emily Corbin, one of the veterinarians assigned to CP-15. Most cases involved routine deworming and flea and tick treatments, as well as the application of dozens of rabies vaccines to prevent the spread of this disease in the area.

“Animals can help break down any barriers that might otherwise exist – cultural, language, etc. – because the human-animal bond transcends these barriers,” said in email exchange on July 10 CPT Corbin. “Because of this, our mission allows us to make sincere connections with so many people because we share this common love of dogs and cats.”

U.S. veterinarians worked alongside veterinary experts from Colombian Naval barracks in Buenaventura. The first day of the mission, the USNS Comfort’s veterinary team encountered a skin parasite that does not exist in the United States; they asked the Colombian veterinarians about it, and soon learned how to effectively treat it.

“They are quite experienced and are eager to learn from us as well as teach us about things we have not experienced,” said CPT Corbin about their Colombian counterparts. “And they are just as eager as we are to care for the pets in the Buenaventura area.”

As part of the Continuing Promise Mission, Sailors from the USNS Comfort engaged in community relations activities in the area. They played soccer with kids, played music and danced at the Coliseo de Centro, decorated a wall mural in Buenaventura alongside local artists, conducted a beach clean-up in Juanchaco with children and youth, and painted a school with help from the community.

“Through these events we come to better know, understand and appreciate the Colombian people and their culture, and in the process they are better able to know us,” wrote in an email from the ship CAPT George Adams, U.S. Navy Chaplain and CP-15 Community Relations coordinator. “They allow us to meet and interact with one another on a more personal level and to work together to have a positive impact on people.”

Every aspect of the mission was carefully planned at the highest level in order to offer the best possible attention to the population of Buenaventura and its neighboring areas, according to Commander Saavedra. Last year, the Integral Action division invited U.S. Navy representatives to review the places where the USNS Comfort crew would work. This facilitated the operation and in turn helped to reinforce bonds between the two nations, one of the ultimate goals of the mission.

“The smile of a patient who has been cared for, the satisfaction of a doctor, volunteer, or a member of the Navy who has fulfilled his duty – that is priceless, and that is best result of strengthening ties between the two navies,” Commander Saavedra said. “We know that together we can accomplish a lot.”