The U.S. military is scaling back its humanitarian mission to Latin America, where it plans to visit the fewest number of countries and treat the fewest number of patients since Operation Continuing Promise began in 2007.
The Navy is sending a speedy transport ship carrying medical personnel to three countries beginning Thursday instead of the much larger hospital ship USNS Comfort that provided care in 11 countries in 2015 when the mission had a budget more than three times as large.The United States regularly provides medical aid, veterinary care and other assistance as part of Operation Continuing Promise, although the missions don’t occur every year. The operation is used to build goodwill and partnerships with host nations and to help maintain the United States’ influence in the region.This year’s mission is expected to treat about 15,000 patients, compared with about 100,000 patients in 2015.Using a smaller ship with fewer personnel aboard over a shorter time will save money. The Navy says the budget for this year’s Operation Continuing Promise is about $11 million, compared with the $40 million that was budgeted for Continuing Promise 2015.Beyond military personnel, nongovernmental organizations like Virginia Beach-based Operation Smile typically embark aboard participating ships and provide free medical care. While some NGOs will still participate in this year’s mission, Operation Smile said this week that after “thoughtful deliberations” it will not be among them.“Our focus is on providing as many surgeries as we can for children with cleft lips and cleft palates. Without a hospital ship as the host, we would not be able to provide those surgeries during Continuing Promise,” Operation Smile spokeswoman Lisa Jardanhazy said in an email.