The Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) kicked off its yearly humanitarian aid mission in support of isolated communities of the Amazon. On January 8th, MB’s hospital ship (NAsH, in Portuguese) Doctor Montenegro left Manaus, in the state of Amazonas, en route to the state of Acre for the 18th edition of Operation Acre. The mission that runs until April 27th delivers medical and dental care to people in the isolated river communities along the Amazon basin in Brazil’s northern states. MB, which started Operation Acre in 1986, projects to serve 20,000 in 2018.
“We do activities to promote health and provide healthcare, prioritizing groups at risk of the most prevalent diseases and disorders, based on the region’s epidemiological profile, to prevent the emergence or persistence of diseases and chronic illnesses,” MB Lieutenant Commander Armando da Silva Costa Neto, commander of NAsH, told Diálogo. “Operation Acre is one of the longest missions the Navy undertakes, lasting four months and involving a large logistical apparatus.”
Services provided include clinical, laboratory, and prenatal exams; minor surgeries; mammograms and x-rays; health education presentations; pharmacy services; and medication distribution. Other activities include promoting reasonable use of medicines, proper storage, effectiveness, and safety during treatment. Among the 76 service members involved in the mission, 24 serve in the health care field—two nurses, two pharmacists, five dentists, five general practitioners, two radiologists, and eight nurse technicians.
Operation Acre’s vast number of services rendered—18,000 patients on average in each operation—and quality of care are impressive. “When speaking in terms of the number of services, what matters most is the quality of the services the ship provides. To break it down, our vessel does laboratory testing and diagnostic imaging which includes dental x-rays, medical x-rays, ultrasound, and mammography, all in real time,” Lt. Cmdr. Neto said. “Patients’ greatest demand is for dental care. The ship has four fully equipped dental clinics, and patients receive an oral hygiene kit and brushing guidelines. We conduct dental appointments and minor surgical procedures, such as prophylactic treatment, restoration of primary teeth, and tooth extractions,” he added.
NAsH provides healthcare along a 4,000-kilometer stretch connecting the city of Manaus with the town of Marechal Thaumaturgo, in the far west of Acre—the ship’s final destination. On January 31st, NAsH docked at Cruzeiro do Sul. In 2017, the municipality declared an emergency situation when the Juruá River overflowed and crested at a historic 14.24 meters—the largest flood the town ever recorded. The river, whose flow the ship follows, runs through both states. The 2017 NAsH mission arrived during that period and, provided about 3,000 services per week, for the duration of its stay, to homeless families affected by the flood.
“I would like to thank the Brazilian Navy once again for the services they provide us each year. Last year, they arrived at the time of the flood. This year—thank God—we’re not going through that again—but they arrived at an opportune moment nonetheless. I would like to thank commander Armando, who leads this wonderful team,” Mayor Ilderlei Cordeiro said at the welcoming reception for NAsH’s arrival in the Várzea neighborhood. “The municipality of Cruzeiro do Sul will assist with the support needed. These partnerships were forged in prior years, and now, under my management, it won’t be any different. In my capacity as mayor, I will always support this important healthcare mission for those living along the river and its tributaries,” he added.
Ships of hope
Priorities for Operation Acre 2018 include educational presentations on topics such as birthrate, oral health and basic hygiene, tooth brushing guidelines, and the application of fluoride. Health care focuses on dental treatments, the prevention of infectious and contagious diseases, and the prevention of breast cancer with mammograms. “It’s so important to reach these communities and provide medical and dental care, give educational presentations that will help raise awareness among the riverine population and change their lifestyle,” Lt. Cmdr. Neto said.
Operation Acre 2018 already beat one historic record: the number of donations NAsH collected and distributed to people in need. NAsH donated more than 1.5 tons of food, clothing, toys, and mattresses—donations also included dog food. According to Lt. Cmdr. Neto, families typically have an average of five animals in precarious health.
MB’s operations to provide medical and dental treatment for riverine communities of the Amazon region date back to the 1940s. The Amazon Fleet Command started bringing doctors and dentists aboard its border patrol vessels—initially to treat service members, then extending services to riverine communities. In addition to NAsH Doctor Montenegro, the MB maintains two other vessels in the region: the Oswaldo Cruz and the Carlos Chagas, known as “ships of hope” in river towns.