Indonesia

Indonesia: U.S. Navy hospital ship treats nearly 10,000 earthquake victims

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Crewmembers work closely with civilian groups to provide medical aid

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr., Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The Navy hospital ship Mercy has treated approximately 9,700 patients since it arrived off the coast of Indonesia in the aftermath of three earthquakes and a tsunami.

At a briefing April 15, Navy Captain Mark Llewellyn, who commands the Mercy, said that after arriving off Indonesia February 4, his ship and medical teams, along with nongovernmental groups, provided medical care, surgery, eyeglasses, laboratory and dental work. The commander's comments on medical relief efforts by the United States, Australia, Germany and Singapore were transmitted to the press from the Mercy.

The ship worked in Indonesia near Banda Aceh, and, more recently, off Nias Island.

The Indian Ocean region was struck by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on December 26, 2004, that set off a tsunami which swept across the region, killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of people and devastating cities and towns. Another major earthquake, at a magnitude of 8.7, struck March 28, and the most recent one at a magnitude of 6.0 struck the region April 5.

The ship arrived off Banda Aceh February 4 and left the region on March 14, Llewellyn said.

"We then started our return trip home to San Diego [California], with a much-reduced staff. We stopped for four days, working in Alor, Indonesia, and had done two days in Dili, East Timor, when we were called again to return back to Western Sumatra and Nias specifically, for earthquake disaster relief," he said.

The Mercy is now working off Nias Island and has been there for 12 days.

Llewellyn said that, in Banda Aceh, his medical teams saw more than 9,000 patients, performed 285 surgical procedures, provided 2,000 X-rays, filled 5,000 prescriptions, performed 4,000 laboratory procedures, and gave out more than 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses.

At Nias, he said, "we've seen about 700 patients ashore. We've done 48 major surgeries on board the ship."

Currently, there are 48 patients receiving shipboard care. In addition, patients have received vision and dental care, he said.

Llewellyn said the Mercy and its staff have worked with Indonesian authorities, Singaporean, German and Australian military and others in providing health care. The ship's preventive medicine unit worked with the International Organization on Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross hospital and with the TNI (Indonesian Army) hospital.

He said that when the Mercy set sail January 5, it had a number of medical personnel from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on board, which was a first for the ship.

At Banda Aceh, he said, the ship had approximately 93 civilian medical personnel working alongside the Navy staff, and currently there are 47 civilian NGO personnel on board. Members of Project Hope, an NGO medical and humanitarian aid organization, have been working with the Mercy in Nias, he said.

"It worked very well because ... we went in representing the spirit and heart of America, which only knows how to do things one way," he said. "Any obstacles here were instantly overcome. Medical professionals working together -- Navy medicine alongside top-notch civilian medicine, it was a tremendous partnership."

Llewellyn said the Mercy will begin its final trip back to the United States by the end of April.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)