By Vatican News
“This ship has already worked miracles, bringing healing and hope to river populations,” said Brother Joel Sousa, a member of the ship’s coordination team.
Therefore, he continued, there is even more reason to do so in times of a medical emergency.
The “Pope Francis” Hospital Ship has been sailing the Amazon River for a year, delivering medical aid and assistance to some 700,000 members of coastal populations – many of them indigenous communities - in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest.
Experts are warning that while deforestation in the Amazon rainforests continues, the lives of indigenous people are at greater risk as the mortality rate from the coronavirus is already double that of Brazil's population.
Their situation is exacerbated due to lack of access to decent medical care and sheer distance from the nearest intensive care units.
In an interview published on the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) website, Brother Sousa revealed that the medical and logistical team aboard the ship got reorganized to specifically fight the pandemic.
He said the crew is now committed to raising awareness and providing information to the local populations and offers on-the-spot first-stage outpatient treatment.
"We are dealing mainly with flu-like symptoms and mild cases of Covid-19," he said, adding that "the doctors carry out the consultations, while we dedicate ourselves to the distribution of medicines.”
The "Pope Francis"
Amongst the crew of the 32 meter-long boat, there are 23 medical experts. The ship has consulting rooms, an operating theatre, a laboratory for testing and diagnosis, a pharmacy and a vaccination centre. It is equipped to carry out X-Rays, mammograms, echo-cardiograms and specialist medical visits like ophthalmology and dentistry.
The initiative was set up and promoted by Bishop Bernardo Bahlmann of Obidos in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, together with the religious of the Fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi in the Providence of God, who run a hospital in Rio de Janeiro.
The “Pope Francis” set sail in July 2019 and since then it has provided much-needed help and care to numerous municipalities and communities along the Amazon River.
The donation of an ultrasound machine by Pope Francis is a tangible sign of his support for the initiative that he greeted with joy and a message of encouragement as the boat undertook its maiden journey.
In a letter to crew and promoters of the ship, the Pope reminded them “the Church is called "to be a ‘field hospital', welcoming everyone, without distinction,” and he noted that, with this initiative, the Church now also presents itself as a “hospital on water.”
"Like Jesus, who appeared walking on water, calmed the storm and strengthened the disciples' faith, this boat will bring spiritual comfort and serenity to the concerns of needy men and women, abandoned to their fate,” the Pope wrote.
The funds for the construction of the ship were made available by the State after it was awarded compensation for collective moral damage by Shell Chimica” and “BASF S.A.” after an environmental accident that caused 60 victims and caused considerable damage.