US Embassy refutes claims about hospital ship

(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — The Jamaican Government and the United States of America Embassy in Kingston are refuting claims on social media that the US Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is in the island to cause harm to Jamaicans.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and public affairs officer at the United States of America Embassy in Kingston, Jeremiah Knight, spoke to the Jamaica Observer during a media tour of the ship and one of the designated walk-in sites on Monday.

“There are false rumours that are spreading on social media about the purpose of what the ship was here for, and that’s why we allowed the media to come and look and see that what is happening on the ship is a humanitarian process, providing support for the people of Jamaica in the areas needed,” Knight said. “The fortunate thing is we are sharing our story, it is going out on social media and we are inviting the press so there is no secret to what we are doing here.”

Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton (left) greets one of the individuals who turned up in Kingston on Monday to access medical services being offered by the team from the US Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort.
The USNS Comfort is a 10-floor hospital ship that boasts 1,000 beds. It is docked in Kingston, for the third time, to offer free medical care to citizens. However, some Jamaicans are wary of the mission.

“Am I the only one concerned that the US is giving free care to another country while their own suffer,” one Facebook user said.

Another Facebook user said: “I heard that they are [bringing] Ebola to the Caribbean and it is a plot to kill off black people.”

However, one social media user encouraged Jamaicans in need to make the most of the opportunity, and not to be discouraged by propaganda.

Regarding the concerns that the US does not provide free health care for its own citizens, Knight said there are systems in place for the needy in America, and that USNS Comfort’s visit to Jamaica is a humanitarian effort that is part of public health partnerships necessary to build other nations.

“In the US there are systems in which we provide support for health for American citizens. Also, these are American citizens giving back and I think it’s a positive story regarding how we partner with other nations. It’s a win-win for us,” he said.

Dr Tufton also encouraged Jamaicans to not be fearful of going for treatment if they are in need, as they are here to provide well-needed care.

“It is unfortunate and I don’t want to give it much credence because I don’t think much people are paying attention to it. The reality is that the vessel and its contents, including the people, are performing an important function. They have helped hundreds of thousands of persons in many countries across the world.
There are Jamaicans on-board. Some people may think it’s foreigners. It is a global network of persons from many countries and we are happy to have them here. It’s in keeping with the partnership we continue to seek as we provide solutions to our issues,” Dr Tufton said.

The health minister also responded to concerns about health care being unaffordable in the USA, yet the services are being provided at no cost here.

“I can’t speak for the US people or for their Government, I can speak for people I serve in Jamaica and my position is that we have to deal with public health as a collaborative global effort, and the truth is as a people, as a global citizen, we are vulnerable depending on where weaknesses are because of our cross-border interaction, travelling, and other things that we do. For us, we welcome the vessel, we welcome the people that are here, and the contents that they have brought,” he said.

The USNS Comfort will offer free medical services until November 1, with approximately 150 surgeries scheduled to take place on-board the vessel. The procedures will include general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, oral maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery, and wound care.

Basic medical services in general care, paediatric services, dental services, optometry, physical therapy, and dermatology will also be provided at walk-in sites at Sabina Park and the Greater Portmore Health Centre from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm each day on a first-come, first-served basis.