Peacekeeping: Chinese Hospital Ships

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August 6, 2008: China has built its first hospital ship. It has three older ones that are converted transports, as well as a medical training ship. But the new vessel, a Type 920 Hospital Ship, is 530 feet long, displaces 23,000 tons, and was designed and built as a hospital ship. It has 600 beds, plus operating rooms, laboratories, pharmacy and crew quarters. China did not give out any statistics, but based on Western hospital ships, the Type 920 probably has a ship crew of about 200 and a medical crew of about 600. China has also built emergency medical facilities that fit into a standard cargo container. Hook up water and electricity, and you can care for all but the most severely injured casualties.

The Type 920 class was designed with disaster relief in mind. This ship can get up most Chinese rivers, and thus can reach many areas where natural disasters cause massive amounts of injuries. China may also be thinking of copying the U.S. Navy, which regularly uses its two hospital ships for providing medical care to areas where there isn't much to begin with, and to areas hit by natural disasters.

The two U.S. Navy two hospital ships, Mercy and Comfort, were built as tankers in the 1970s, and converted to hospital ships in the 1980s. They displace 70,000 tons each and are 894 feet long. Each ship has 12 operating rooms, fifty emergency room beds, a thousand patient beds and a crew of 286 (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. For example, one of these ships, the Mercy recently spent 13 days in East Timor, treating 9,800 patients, including surgery for 270 of them. Many parts of China could benefit from that kind of visit, but these areas are usually far from the sea, or a river that navigable for ocean going vessels.

 


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