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May 19, 1989

Newest in Long Tradition of Hospital Ships Originally Were Launched as Supertankers

JAMA. 1989;261(19):2795-2796. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03420190065013

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HAVE HOSPITAL, will travel. Plowing steadily through the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, respectively, the US Navy hospital ships Mercy and Comfort provide floating medical support for military personnel—and civilians, too.

In 1986, for example, the Mercy went on a 72-day shakedown cruise in the Philippines as part of a humanitarian aid package approved by then-President Ronald Reagan. The 90 000-ton (81 000 tonne) ship stopped at seven islands to treat as many as 1500 persons a day for ailments ranging from leprosy to parasites, malaria, and tumors.

"The biggest one [tumor] was 32 pounds and the size of a basketball," recounts CDR Judith Lombardi. Many of the children who came on board had cleft lips and palates, clubfeet, or cataracts. Working with local physicians, the medical staff preselected patients to fit into the ship's capability and overall mission.

Certainly, the problems of the patients on the Philippine