The medical team of Johanniter International Assistance spent four weeks assisting in containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early April, the medical team with Johanniter volunteers from our Austrian and German members travelled to Papua New Guinea to support their sister organisation St John Papua New Guinea. The local St John organisation had been commissioned by the government to set up a field hospital in the capital Port Moresby.

“Together with the St John team, we took over the care and monitoring of patients with moderate symptoms in the hospital,” said team leader Manfred Emmerling. 

However, patients often suddenly needed acute intensive care.

“Among them was an eight-month-old child who was in such bad shape that we had to transfer it to the intensive care unit at the General Hospital,” reported Johanniter Dr Wolfgang Pramendorfer.

Medical evacuations from remote regions of the country were also part of the team’s tasks. “Where intensive medical care is not possible, we have to transfer patients to Port Moresby by helicopter or small aircraft. For example, we cared for two pregnant women with complications on the one-and-a-half-hour flight from the Papuan jungle to the capital. Having transferred them saved their lives,” recalled emergency paramedic Thomas Betzold.

In order to assess available medical care in remote regions, the team also visited various health facilities in smaller villages. “Protective equipment or training on COVID-19 has not been available here for a long time. Testing rarely takes place, and people wait weeks for their results. In addition, there is hardly any electricity or running water. Under these conditions, it is very difficult to contain the virus. But every little thing can make a difference and save lives,” the team summed up.

Together with St John, the team subsequently conducted various training activities and provided protective equipment. In addition, all findings of the team were shared with the local World Health Organisation coordinating bodies and the relevant health authorities to improve care in remote areas in the long term.

“We are glad that Johanniter has supported us in these difficult times. In addition to providing support in the clinic, they have trained St John staff and given us guidance on how to improve patient care. We are very grateful to Johanniter,” said Matthew Cannon, CEO of St John Papua New Guinea.

The team travelled back home on 6th May. It was a special and challenging deployment for all.

“We worked in an enclosed space in protective gear with plastic gowns, masks and face visors, and in temperatures above 30 degrees. By the end of my shift, I had the sweat standing high in the sleeve of my working clothes,” said emergency paramedic Christian Gatniejewski. “I have a lot of respect for the nurses. Without vaccination and under the most difficult conditions, they are helping without hesitations,” he continued. The medical team’s deployment was funded by the European Union and St John International.