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U.S. Navy hospital ship to be sent to Colombia

By Sommer Brokaw
U.S. Navy hospital ship to be sent to Colombia
The USNS Comfort, which Defense Secretary Jim Matttis said Friday is likely to be used in humanitarian relief effort for Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, is shown. File Photo by Ryan SteinhourUPI/Navy | License Photo

Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The United States is sending a Navy hospital ship to Colombia to aid hundreds of thousands of migrants coming over the border to escape violence and hunger in Venezuela.

{link:Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced Friday that the United States would take its first action into the Venezuelan crisis by deploying the U.S. Navy ship to the Colombian coast to help treat the refugees since the Colombian medical system has been overwhelmed.

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"It is absolutely a humanitarian mission," Mattis said in a Miami Herald report. "We're not sending soldiers, we're sending doctors."

Mattis got advice on where to deploy the ship in talks Friday with newly inaugurated Colombian President Ivan Duque.

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"They [Colombian leadership] not only agreed in principle, they gave details of how we might best craft the cruise through the region," Mattis said in a Voice of America report.

As of June, an estimated 2.3 million people, out of 32.8 million people who live there, have fled Venezuela, mainly to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, United Nations secretary-general spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters in a U.N. update on the crisis.

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"People cite the lack of food as their main reason for fleeing, with reportedly 1.3 million people suffering from malnourishment," Dujarric said.

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There are "severe shortages of basic medicines and medical supplies, which have led to a sharp deterioration of the quality of hospitals," and reportedly more than 100,000 HIV/AIDS patients are "at risk due to lack of access to necessary medication," Dujarric added. Furthermore, "formerly eradicated diseases of measles, malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria are present and on the rise."

Mattis said he would probably use the USNS Comfort ship, but did not give a firm date as to when it would be dispatched from its home port in Norfolk, Va.

The Comfort can carry up to 1,215 personnel in times of war, but has a smaller crew and lesser capabilities for some humanitarian relief efforts.

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