Operation Smile Partners with Navy in Humanitarian Mission

American Forces Press Service

NORFOLK, Va., June 19, 2007 - Operation Smile, a worldwide children's medical charity that provides free surgery to children in developing countries born with facial deformities, is participating with the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort's summer humanitarian assistance deployment.

The USNS Comfort mission will provide humanitarian services to 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean during a 120-day deployment. These services will include basic surgeries, nursing educational opportunities, public health interventions, veterinary services, and basic infrastructure support and construction.

Operation Smile will be working side by side with the Navy in Nicaragua, Peru and Colombia. The Operation Smile volunteer medical teams are composed of international volunteers in Nicaragua and Peru, while a team of Operation Smile Colombian medical volunteers will conduct a medical mission in a Buenaventura local hospital in that country.

About 125 to 150 children suffering with cleft lips and cleft palates will receive free reconstructive surgery as a result of these three medical missions.

"Operation Smile is honored to participate in the USNS Comfort's deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean Sea region," Dr. Rob Rubin, Operation Smile's chief medical officer, said. "Following our successful participation with Comfort's sister ship, USNS Mercy, in the Pacific last year, we along with our medical volunteers from Nicaragua, Peru and Colombia are excited to join with the Comfort's crew in bringing new smiles to the children of Latin America."

USNS Comfort left here June 15. The first mission stop involving Operation Smile will be in Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua, in mid-July. Operation Smile volunteers will conduct free medical evaluations in local hospitals to identify surgical patients who will then be transported aboard the ship.

Operation Smile medical volunteers will work side by side with Navy personnel and conduct three days of surgery. Post-operative checks for the patients will take place the following week at Hospital España, in Chinandega, a partner facility that Operation Smile uses for its medical missions.

USNS Comfort will move on to Salaverry, Peru, for the next medical mission involving Operation Smile in early August. Operation Smile Peru has conducted several local missions in Trujillo and has worked closely with the local hospital and Ministry of Health. Operation Smile volunteers will conduct free medical evaluations in Hospital Belen to identify surgical patients. The ship will be anchored offshore, and the Peruvian navy and coast guard will transport patients to the ship and back.

Operation Smile's medical team will work with Navy personnel to conduct three days of surgery. Post-operative care will also take place at Hospital Belen in Trujillo the week following surgery.

In late August, Operation Smile medical volunteers from Colombia will work at Hospital Departamental de Buenaventura to provide free medical evaluations and two days of surgery to children.

USNS Comfort is operated and navigated by a crew of 68 civil service mariners from the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command. During its four-month deployment, the ship is scheduled to make port calls in Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

This is the second time Operation Smile has been invited to participate in a Navy hospital ship mission. The first mission took place June 28 to July 5, 2006, and involved nearly 40 Operation Smile volunteers deployed with the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy to Chittagong, Bangladesh.

The Operation Smile international team provided free medical evaluations at Chittagong Medical College Hospital for more than 140 children and treated 54. This mission marked the first time Operation Smile had treated children from Bangladesh, and officials said the charity plans to conduct future missions in the country.

(From an Operation Smile news release.)

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