Navy May Send Hospital Ships On Regular Humanitarian Cruises

November 18th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Navy May Send Hospital Ships On Regular Humanitarian Cruises

Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
November 17, 2006
By Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot
WASHINGTON - Spurred by a surge in international goodwill after one of their hospital ships completed a five-month humanitarian cruise to Southeast Asia last summer, the Navy's top leaders are considering regular deployments of the floating medical centers.
Adm. Michael Mullen, the chief of naval operations, said Thursday that his staff is looking to rearrange budgets and round up partners in the other military branches and civilian humanitarian groups to support an annual cruise by the Baltimore-based Comfort or its sister ship, the San Diego-based Mercy.
Doctors, nurses and other health care workers on the Mercy served nearly 61,000 patients in four countries on an April-September cruise this year, according to Project HOPE, a civilian humanitarian agency. The personnel administered more than 10,500 vaccinations, extracted 6,000 teeth and filled 41,000 prescriptions, Dr. John Howe, Project HOPE's president, told reporters. They also performed more than 1,000 surgeries.
Surveys conducted in Indonesia and Bangladesh after the Mercy's visits showed dramatic improvements in attitudes toward the United States, said Kenneth Ballen, president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a private group that financed the polls.
In Indonesia, for example, 30 percent of those polled in August had positive feelings about the United States - double the percentage reported in a May 2003 survey. In Bangladesh, 63 percent of those polled expressed approval of America.
The August survey in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, also found declining support for al- Qaida leader Osama b in Laden. Only 12 percent of those polled approved of b in Laden, down from 58 percent in May 2003.
"It appears we healed more than physical wounds during the mission," Howe said.
Although Mullen said no decisions have been made about future cruises, he called the $17 million cost of the Mercy deployment "a pretty inexpensive investment" considering its benefits. Because the Mercy was used this year, the Comfort likely will deploy next, he suggested.
That likely would mean a trip abroad for some doctors and nurses at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. The Comfort typically draws its medical personnel from Portsmouth and other Navy facilities along the E ast C oast.
The Mercy and Comfort were built as oil tankers in the 1970s and converted for use as hospital ships in the 1980 s. Each has a dozen operating rooms and bed space for up to 1,000 patients.
The ships were designed to be wartime hospitals, but the Navy dispatched the Mercy to the Indian Ocean on a relief mission after the December 2004 tsunami that killed thousands of people. The Comfort was used closer to home last year, sailing to the Gulf of Mexico to aid residents of Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina struck.

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