Healing from port to port

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By 2017-08-13

Text and pix by Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Ceylon Today Features

It is common for ships to have medical facilities on board mainly to treat the crew and the passengers on the ship. Despite sometimes having state-of-the-art medical facilities, those ships are not identified as 'hospital ships' as their purpose is not serving the sick. Incidentally, there are only a handful of countries in the world, countries such as Brazil, India,the United States, Russia, China and so forth, that own fully fledged hospital ships or floating medical treatment facilities.

Sri Lanka had the rare opportunity of witnessing such a ship when the Chinese hospital ship Ark Peace called at port in Colombo, recently. The vessel was on her way to Djibouti on a humanitarian mission while she made a short goodwill stop at Sri Lanka. During the brief four-day visit the ship opened its doors to the general public seeking medical help. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the ship on the day prior to the last day of her stay.

Upon boarding the ship you find yourself in an area similar to the OPD in a regular hospital. Medical staff on the ship would consult patients then and there and would direct them to specialized areas according to their medical needs. On the deck map there were many operation rooms marked and I asked a staff member about what kind of surgeries the ship is capable of carrying out. The Medical Officer, who politely admitted that his English was not so good, directed me to Dr. Zhang Zhi Ling who was an Orthopaedic Surgeon on board. "The ship has the facilities to perform almost all general surgeries. Since the ship often sails and provides humanitarian services in war inflicted areas, it is a necessity to have a wide variety of surgery facilities. Nothing fancy is carried out here like plastic surgery but we do have facilities to treat burn victims" explained Dr. Ling.

The Ark Peace has eight operating rooms and 300 sickbeds. 18 consulting rooms of the ship include severe Burn Wards, ICU, CT Scans, X ray Scans, Dental Clinic, the Blood Preparation Room, the Special Examination Room, Medical Information Centre, Laboratories and so forth. The medical staff on board is arranged according to the mission the ship is on. Medical personnel covering areas such as Surgery, Internal Medicine, Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Otolaryngology, Stomatology and traditional Chinese medicine usually are on board at all times.

"Traditional Chinese medicinal methods ease the blood flow of the human body and rearranges the 'chi' or life force of the human body" explained Dr. Ling. Popular Chinese medicine techniques such as acupuncture, cupping and scraping as well as massages are readily available on board for patients.

The large 178-meter long maritime medical platform has been involved in humanitarian missions around the globe, healing the wounded, rescuing the dying and spreading friendship and love since she was first commissioned in December 2008. The ship so far has aided numerous countries around the world.

The likes of Djibouti, Kenya and Tanzania from Africa to Brunei, Maldives, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Malaysia and even countries as far west as Cuba and the Caribbean are some of the countries the vessel has already been to. So far, she has sailed over 160,000 nautical miles across three oceans and five continents treating over 120,000 sick and wounded.

After the brief stop at Sri Lanka, Arc Peace of People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy set sails for her next destination which was Djibouti. Dr. Ling said that during the stay, the ship treated about four to five hundred patients, both Sri Lankan and Chinese. The ship with a mission is expected to spread friendship and love across Africa before moving on to Europe.

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