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Growing Medical Capacity Side-by-Side During Pacific Partnership 24-1

06 February 2024

From Seaman Justin Ontiveros

During Pacific Partnership 24-1, the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission in the Indo-Pacific region, U.S. Navy and partner nation surgeons conducted 74 side-by-side surgeries alongside host nation medical professionals onboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and at local hospitals.During the four-month mission,
During Pacific Partnership 24-1, the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission in the Indo-Pacific region, U.S. Navy and partner nation surgeons conducted 74 side-by-side surgeries alongside host nation medical professionals onboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and at local hospitals.

During the four-month mission, medical providers visited the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Republic of Palau, and Federated States of Micronesia from October 2023 to February 2024.

Cmdr. Erik Olson, a U.S. Navy surgeon was one of the many medical providers that conducted side-by-side surgeries with host nation surgeons to share capabilities and knowledge in surgical care.

One example of side-by-side surgeries was performed onboard USNS Mercy, where Olson worked alongside Dr. Glenda Santos, a general surgeon with Belau National Hospital in Palau.

"I love the fact that we have developed a partnership,” said Santos. “The learning is very valuable for us because we have very limited resources at the hospital. These learning side-by-side opportunities are really valuable, not just for me, but for all the other doctors who have benefited from this visit by Mercy ship doctors.”

Side-by-sides are a critical part of the medical line of effort for Pacific Partnership, which works to improve host nation medical capabilities. Pacific Partnership is focused on collective capacity building which has evolved from the previous approach that centered on providing direct care. Any direct care provided is shoulder-to-shoulder with the host and partner nations in order to share knowledge and skills that are enduring and applicable well after the mission.

“We did a laparoscopic cholecystectomy which means removing the gallbladder with small instruments and a camera,” said Olson. “That surgery takes anywhere from about 30 minutes to about an hour and a half depending on the severity of the patient’s gallbladder disease.”

Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure in which a fiber-optic instrument is inserted through the abdominal wall to view the organs in the abdomen or to permit a surgical procedure.

“We do not have laparoscopic surgery capabilities in our hospital, so this gives us a very good learning opportunity and exposure to these types of surgeries,” said Santos. “Hopefully in the future when we do get the instruments, we will be able to perform the surgeries.”

The side-by-side training allowed Mercy surgeons to leave a lasting impact on the medical capabilities of the host nations visited during Pacific Partnership.

“I love the opportunity to work with our host nations,” Olson said. “Dr. Santos hasn’t done laparoscopic surgery in multiple years. To be able to give her a refresher, and hopefully give her some ammunition for getting these resources, is a very rewarding experience.”

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