Peacekeeping: The Continuing Voyages of the USNS Mercy

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November19, 2006: The U.S. Navy is trying to round up support from the other services, to staff and finance another non-combat cruise of the hospital ship Mercy. Earlier this year, the Mercy spent six months in Indonesia, treating 61,000 patients. Most of the Indonesians received some medicine, or some dental work. But about two percent involved some surgery. As a result of the Mercy's visit, favorable attitudes towards the U.S. by Indonesians doubled (to 30 percent, so more work is needed.) The Indonesians were getting American quality medicine, which explains the average cost for treating each patient; $280.

The U.S. Navy has two hospital ships; Mercy and Comfort. They were built as tankers in the 1970s, and converted to hospital ships in the 1980s. They displace 70,000 tons and are 894 feet long.. Each ship has 12 operating rooms, fifty emergency room beds, a thousand patient beds and a crew of 61 civilians and 225 sailors, plus 956 medical personnel. Fully air conditioned, and stocked with medical supplies and the latest medical equipment, they bring the highest level of medical care to parts of the world that have rarely seen any modern medicine at all.

The navy's pitch is that one six month deployment by one of these ships has an enormous impact on the health of the people treated, and on their attitude towards the United States. The United States armed forces actually has little use for hospital ships at the moment. Casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan are already much lower than expected, and army medical units actually spend a lot of their time treating Iraqis.

 


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