Pacific Partnership 2018 : Mercy in the Trinco waters | Sunday Observer

Pacific Partnership 2018 : Mercy in the Trinco waters

Colossal. Over 32 meters at the beam and 272 meters in length, it is a super tanker converted into a hospital ship. The largest hospital ship in the world and the 4th largest ship in the US Navy USNS Mercy rests in the Trincomalee waters. She is on a mission of mercy. One which helps countries such as Sri Lanka in the Indo-Pacific region to be ‘better prepared’ in disaster situations like the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the last disaster relief operation she was deployed in.

It was the tsunami which prompted the mission – Pacific Partnership; a collaboration between the United States Navy and partner countries Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Peru and Japan. Pacific Partnership 2018 is the 13th reiteration of the mission. Last March, (March 2017) saw the mission extended to Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean country, with USNS Fall River at the Hambantota Port. This is the second consecutive year that Pacific Partnership visited the country.

Medical personnel, military as well as civilian, worked side by side with their mission counterparts on board Mercy, as well as at mobile medical clinics at different locations within the district, treating the local community.

The mission’s presence enabled him “advance waiting list patients’ surgeries,” said Dr. Ziard, Resident Gynaecologist at the Trincomalee General Hospital, as he waited on board with his mission counterpart to perform 3 surgeries on his patients. Pacific Partnership collaborated with the SL Navy as well as the hospitals in the district, scheduling surgeries and other necessary medical treatment. Around eight to ten surgeries were performed daily at the hospital ship since its arrival in Trincomalee.

The hospital ship’s facilities include 12 fully-equipped operating rooms and 15 in-patient wards. Radiological services are provided through four X’ray rooms, an angiography suite and a CAT scan recently updated with vascular imagery providing whole body imaging within 12 to 20 seconds. The unit is staffed with 3 radiologists and 8 technicians. The blood bank on-board stores 500 units of frozen red-cells, while 10 units of liquid cells are kept ready for use at any given time. The Intensive Care Units (ICU) have a total of 80 beds and an isolation room. A centralized oxygen and suction unit, in addition to individual oxygen supply is a feature in the ICU. Its emergency care or the trauma area equipped with 30 beds could be extended to 50 beds at a time of need. In addition, the ship is equipped with a medical laboratory, an optometry laboratory and a pharmacy.

As the ship’s medical staff consists of full time service providers, it is imperative that state-of-the-art equipment is provided, said L.M. Boamah, Executive Officer and Capt. of the US Navy. “They are full time providers at our home stations, so when we bring them on Mercy to help us accomplish the Pacific Partnership missions they have to be able to get started right away. So, we bring all of the equipment they are used to in their regular everyday practice. Sometimes, what we have on board Mercy is more advanced that what they are used to,” said Boamah.

The ‘Tele-Medicine’ unit is another feature at Mercy. It is the first hospital ship to be equipped with a tele-medicine unit which enables doctors on board to consult specialized medical personnel on land real time, to perform surgeries and to provide other medical treatment, explained Boamah. “Mercy has a lot of capabilities and our staff members have a lot of talent. Those who come on board Mercy for treatment are in good hands.” Perhaps, the only two surgeries they can’t perform on board are transplants and coronary by-pass surgeries, she quipped.

Mercy’s primary task being providing emergency care for US combatants deployed in war or other operations, it is self sufficient with two oxygen producing plants and potable water extraction plants. It has a storage capacity of 300,000 gallons of water. The helicopter deck for landing large military helicopters and side ports facilitate taking on patients at sea. Though 65 civil service marines and 1,215 naval medical personnel are required for Mercy to be in full operating status, it could be fully activated and crewed within five days.

Being on board Mercy and working alongside the Pacific Partnership mission’s medical personnel has been a rewarding experience, said Dr. Yasitha Weerasinghe one of the 7 SL Navy personnel to join the mission since its arrival from Indonesia. He was serving the patients alongside Dr. Tony Han, Capt. of the US Navy at the mobile medical clinic in Sampoor. “I gained much knowledge in patient care and treatment,” said Weerasinghe. Pacific Partnership held community medical clinics at varied locations in the Trincomalee district to generate goodwill and friendship with the people.

The medical camps treated about 500 patients on a daily basis, said Carolyn Ellison, Lt. Commander US Navy who was in charge of operations at the Sampoor mobile medical clinic. It was the 5th community health engagement by the mission’s medical personnel, she explained.

Though, he found language to be an obstacle for treatment, he received a lot of advice about the medical condition, said P. Pirabaharan who was at the clinic to get treatment for his 12 year old son. “His condition was explained to me well. They advised me on how my son could get it, how to prevent it and so on. They also told me when medication is necessary and when it is not,” he said.

It was all smiles and bright eyes from both sides, as the mission members engaged in a game of volley ball and prepared to entertain students with the mission band-along with members of the SL Navy band at Sri Sumedhankara Vidyalaya. Petty Officer Jason Cooper, Community Relations Project Manager a first time visitor in Sri Lanka valued the people in the country. “People here are unforgettable. US culture is fast paced, here people take life in. I learned to pause and take life in a little more,” he said. Four public concerts were included in the community entertainment schedule of the Pacific Partnership mission, along with many interactive sessions at the district schools.

Pacific Partnership, also includes civil engineering and disaster relief preparedness training projects in Trincomalee.

Pacific Partnership 2018 , consists of over 800 persons, both military and civilian from the US and partner countries including health professionals, civil engineers and humanitarian and disaster relief experts deployed in 2 ships, USNS Mercy a hospital ship and USNS Fall River, an expeditionary fast transport ship. The mission members work together with counterparts in their host nations during mission stops. It is lead by Captain David Bretz, Commander Destroyer Squadron 31 of the US Navy and his staff. Indonesia, Malaysia, Palau, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Yap are the countries the mission visits this year, enhancing goodwill and friendship with host nations and improving regional coordination and cooperation in disaster preparedness.

The mission continues in Sri Lanka till May 8.

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