New hospital ship to begin serving Amazon region in Brazil
SÃO PAULO – The newest addition to a fleet of hospital boats on the Amazon River is to be christened the Saint John XXIII, and will soon be serving patients in some of the most remote parts of Brazil.
The boat will join the Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis in providing health care to mostly indigenous populations in Brazil’s Amazon region, whose riverside communities often lack basic infrastructure and healthcare facilities.
On July 1, Franciscan-inspired “Associação e Fraternidade São Francisco de Assis na Providência de Deus”, which manages 74 clinics in Brazil, bought the boat from a local shipyard, and says it will be ready to serve the Amazon communities in about six months.
The Pope Francis was launched by the association in 2019 and the Saint John Paul II followed in 2020. Both boats have been assisting riverside communities in Pará State. The Saint John XXIII will navigate the Negro and Solimões rivers, two of the Amazon’s tributaries.
“After more than one year of experience and 140,000 people assisted, we knew it was about time to launch a third hospital boat in the Amazon,” the institute’s founder, Father Francisco Belotti, told Crux.
The funds for the boat came from a court settlement, and the ship’s transformation into a hospital, including the equipment, is being financed by the food processing company Marfrig.
The new hospital boat will be used to assist riverside people – fishing communities, indigenous groups, and quilombolas (descendants of African slaves who fled captivity during the slavery era and formed settlements in remote locations – providing medical visits, tests, and even performing surgeries. The operational costs will be funded by Brazil’s government healthcare system. The physicians will be volunteers.
“We’ll begin assisting people who have been waiting for tests or surgeries for many months. Afterwards, we’ll also receive COVID-19 vaccines to administer,” Belotti said.
Bishop Bernardo Johannes Bahlmann of Óbidos in Pará State has taken part in the initiative from the start and witnessed the importance of the hospital boats’ work since 2019.
“The entire healthcare system in the Amazon region is very fragile. People have to travel to distant cities when they’re sick, but many don’t even try to do so, because it’s expensive, difficult, and frequently they don’t get to see a doctor at the end of the journey,” he told Crux.
The hospital boats’ work has been critical in fighting the pandemic’s second wave in the first months of 2021. They spent several weeks reaching villages where people were in gave condition and saved dozens of lives by stabilizing patients on board and taking them to ICU beds in nearby urban centers.