U.S. Army Major Shayna Thompson of Hannibal was shocked at the poverty level of people in the Pacific islands when she arrived there on a humanitarian medical mission. An emergency medical physician, she served on U.S. “mercy ships” from May 24 to Sept. 5.

U.S. Army Major Shayna Thompson of Hannibal was shocked at the poverty level of people in the Pacific islands when she arrived there on a humanitarian medical mission. An emergency medical physician, she served on U.S. “mercy ships” from May 24 to Sept. 5.

Thompson, the daughter of Wendell and Mary Glance of Hannibal, arrived in the South Pacific islands on the USS Millinocket in May and in August went to Vietnam on the USNS.

She was most shocked with the conditions in the Philippines, where she found “a very profound amount of starvation and malnutrition among children.”

To help counteract this, “we promoted breast feeding,” Thompson said. “Some could not be treated. Many had TB, so we treated TB or parasitic diseases. It was more treating the underlying program.

“It was one of things that had the most profound effect on me,” Thompson said. “It was very discouraging, because there was so little that could be done. If their moms were not able to breast feed, they were out of luck.”

Adults are not free of health problems, she added. “Many of the adults are actually obese, so they have the problems we have in America, diabetes and high blood pressure. ... They are in the unenviable condition of having obesity” from being “in an underdeveloped world - starvation and lack of nutritious food. They eat a lot of fish and rice, not a lot of produce.”

 

Despite poverty,

people are happy

 

Despite their food shortage, the people's attitude was surprising, Thompson said. “The other thing that amazed me in the poorest country,” was “I have never before met people who are more generous and kind and joyful. They are the happiest people I have ever met. Genuinely happy. It's their way of life. They are welcoming and would give you the shirt off their back. Seeing that and seeing the circumstances, it made me very conscious of the fact that we are very fortunate.”

Thompson has been in active in the U.S. Army since 2007. She has served in Afghanistan and is currently stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.

She volunteered to serve on the medical mission ship in the South Pacific and first went to the Kiribati nation. “All the islands we went to are in Pacific rim or China seas,” she said. “They are multiple islands that create a nation.” Her first island was Parawa.

Thompson explained that the military mission is intended, “to be a partnership between the U.S. military and nations we visit. The goal is to bring medical care as well as engineering resources.”

They helped prepare the people for future disasters, because “these nations are frequently the unfortunate recipient of disasters, and they are so poor, they are not able to respond without help from other nations, such as the U.S.

“Also, the goal is strategic - the U.S. military has an interest in the development of good standings of those island nations in the Pacific because of previous interactions as far back as World War II.”

Thompson added that, “throughout this mission we went to places that were significant historical sites in World War II, by happen chance. We brought an engineering team that rebuilt schools or orphanages, but as the military, we enjoyed the historic significance.”

The ship next went to the Philippines, where they had an interesting experience, because “we have a lot of soldiers who were born in the Philippines and came to us as children or teenagers and joined the military, so we had some who met their families.”

In addition to the poverty of the island people, Thompson said, she saw “tropical diseases and others we know about but do not encounter.

We did require malaria prevention medication for the trip and were very vigilant, making sure we did not get bit by mosquitoes, because most tropical diseases are carried by mosquitoes or sand flies. We slept on the ship, and would come off the ship every day.

“On the Solomon Islands we stayed at an Australian police compound, because it was joint mission with Australia, New Zealand and France. It was a multi-national experience.”

Thompson left the Philippines on the USNS to serve in Vietnam from Aug. 12 to Sept. 5. The group also did disaster preparations there, she said. “In Vietnam we did very large city-wide drills for disaster response such as a typhoon,” Police, fire and medical teams were involved. They prepared the people, “from the point of calamity all the way to evacuating people to the mercy ship,” she said.

A mercy ship is a hospital ship with everything a regular hospital has. “For this mission, it had at least 30 or 40 doctors, and lots of nurses and other employee services,” Thompson said.

“My dad fought in Vietnam, and it was a powerful experience, to interact with the people. It was in a completely different setting but in the same country where many of our soldiers, sailors and Marines died and did not come home.”

Reach Reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com