Aid Sets Sail with USNS Comfort

  • 10 May 2011

Article Highlights

  • The USNS Comfort will visit 12 different locations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, providing medical, veterinary, educational, dietary, and engineering services.
  • USNS Comfort volunteers will focus on teaching skills that allow people to better help themselves.
  • Volunteers will train health care providers in neonatal resuscitation to help save the lives of newborns.

“[We want] to bring a lot of focus not only to providing the service and goods, but also to strengthening the community while we are there.” —Fred Riley, manager of field operations, Welfare Services

In April, the USNSComfort set sail for 12 different locations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America to provide medical care to those in need and to train medical professionals.

Volunteers from the Church, the United States Navy, and many other relief organizations support two full-service medical ships, the USNSMercyandthe USNSComfort. Each year one of the ships makes the six-month journey, and the ships alternate each year.

This year, in addition to providing the traditional humanitarian services they have offered in the past, volunteers aboard the Comfort will focus on teaching skills that allow people to help themselves after the ship has left.

“[We want] to bring a lot of focus not only to providing the service and goods, but also to strengthening the community while we are there,” said Fred Riley, manager of field operations for Welfare Services.

Volunteer doctors and nurses will train local midwives, nurses, and doctors in various medical procedures, specifically neonatal resuscitation, Brother Riley said. Neonatal resuscitation skills help in delivery when newborns do not breathe on their own. The skills can be taught in a four-hour training program.

“Just that quickly, we can train them to save babies’ lives,” Brother Riley said. Newborns not being able to breathe on delivery “is one of the largest killers of infants around the world, and it could be fixed so easily.”

Volunteers will leave training kits and mannequins so those who receive training can train others—creating independence that will allow the community to take care of itself.

The purpose for the Church’s involvement in the ship’s mission is three-fold.

First, Brother Riley said, the Church wants to provide humanitarian services that meet medical, educational, and nutritional needs. Examples include distributing packets containing blankets and toys to orphanages; giving school kits to local schools; and fixing pipes, air conditioners, or latrines in schools and hospitals.

The second reason is to help form partnerships with governments and other organizations “so in the future, if they need our help or we need their help, we know each other and can work together,” Brother Riley said. “We have already seen this with the [U.S.] Navy and among local leaders [in countries we’ve visited]. Other projects are already forming because of these relationships.”

Third is to prepare for emergencies. “These trips are like practice runs to help us know how to respond quickly If we are needed, or the navy is needed,” Brother Riley said. “When [the earthquake in] Haiti happened, the Comfort went and did a lot of work there.” If a disaster were to happen while the ship was out on a mission, the crew knows the ship’s course would be diverted to the area needing help because “that is its purpose,” Brother Riley said.

The USNSComfort will visit Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Peru during this deployment.