Papua New Guinea: Helping on land and in the air

News and Press Release
Originally published


Johanniter medical team spent four weeks assisting to contain the Covid pandemic ++ The team travels back to Germany on Thursday.

Berlin - A Johanniter medical team travelled to Papua New Guinea in early April to support our sister organisation St John Papua New Guinea in caring for Covid patients. St John had been commissioned by the government to set up a makeshift 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," says team leader Manfred Emmerling. More often, however, patients they were helping 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," reports Johanniter doctor Dr. Wolfgang Pramendorfer.

Medical evacuations from remote regions of the country were also part of the team's tasks. "Intensive medical care is not possible here, which is why we had to transfer patients to Port Moresby by helicopter or small aircraft. For example, we cared for two pregnant women with complications on the one-anda-half-hour flight from the Papuan jungle to the Capital. Having transferred them saved their lives," recalls emergency paramedic Thomas Betzold.

Training and protective equipment for health stations

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 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 trainings 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 with the aim of improving 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," says Matthew Cannon, CEO of St John Papua New Guinea.

Challenging mission

The team will travel back to Germany on Thursday. It was a special and challenging mission 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," says emergency paramedic Christian Gatniejewski. "I have a lot of respect for the nurses. Without vaccination and under the most difficult conditions they are helping withouth hesitations," the Saxony-Anhalt native continues.The medical team's mission was funded by the European Union and St John International.

Note to editors

After their return on Friday, the team will be available for interviews. Photo and video material can also be provided on request. Please contact the press office.


Papua New Guinea has been experiencing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases across the country since February 2021. As of 4 April 2021, a total of over 7000 confirmed cases, including 61 deaths, have been reported. The total number of reported cases and deaths is likely to be significantly underestimated due to under-reporting and very limited testing nationwide. All 22 provinces of Papua have already reported COVID-19 cases.

Johanniter International Assistance

Humanitarian aid abroad is a statutory task of Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe e.V. It is implemented by Johanniter International Assistance. More than 280 international and local employees work in 11 country offices and in Berlin. In June 2017, the Johanniter Emergency Medical Team was certified by the World Health Organisation as the first team of an NGO worldwide to become an "Emergency Medical Team Type 1 Mobile" (EMT 1 Mobile). The team has already been deployed to Mozambique after Cyclone Idai and to care for COVID-19 patients in Kosovo.

St John Ambulance Papua New Guinea

St John Ambulance Papua New Guinea is part of the worldwide Order of St John and has been registered as an independent aid organisation in the country since 1957. St John is primarily active in ambulance, emergency care and pre-hospital care and is part of the nationwide air ambulance. The organisation also offers first aid courses. St John Papua New Guinea has played a crucial role in providing medical care to the population on behalf of the government since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. In addition to the new field hospital, St John supports testing, stores and distributes protective clothing, masks and gloves, and contributes significantly to the nationwide immunisation programme.