My name is Sebastian Freudenberg. I am a doctor in Papua New Guinea. Until a few months ago, I was Director of the Helios Klinikum in Bad Berleburg. My family and I have always been enticed by little-known, remote places. With a wish to explore far-off lands while in good health and before our youngest children start secondary school, we looked around for jobs on the Internet. We took a particular interest in the Pacific region since we are relatively unfamiliar with it. Our attention was ultimately drawn to the State of Papua New Guinea in Oceania. After coming across the job ad, we took a closer look at the country and soon felt that this remote region quite unknown to us was exactly what we were in search of.
In light of the fully expectable circumstances on site, our goals quickly took shape. We wanted to standardize the medical care in general and of course surgical practices in particular, and most of all, we wanted to train local recruits who would still be here once our work is done in about three years, at which time we would need to be returning to Germany.
I am also very committed to cooperating with the nation’s two universities. My objective is to expand surgical training at the elementary and advanced level for students and interns.
In order to equip the clinic in Papua New Guinea with what it needs, we had to start by raising donations in Germany. We took great pleasure in organizing a sponsored run together with various specialist clinics of the hospital, its administration and the support of local physicians, most of all our general practitioner of long years, who happened to be an ambitious marathon runner too. The proceeds enabled us to raise half the cost of an ultrasound scanner. Erbe donated a VIO surgical unit along with many accessories. The equipment and the participation of many helpers in Bad Berleburg as well as the friendships which have formed as a result are an unexpected boon.
So we ultimately took off for a far-away destination.
Our employer, the Protestant-Lutheran church, was quite adamant about us being well-integrated into the host country. This meant learning the national language, establishing contact with the inhabitants and familiarizing ourselves with various networks. In a country like Papua New Guinea this is not exactly an easy task.
Our orientation phase lasted several months. The people were totally friendly but their notions of family, the role of women in society, responsibility and property differ strongly from our own. Much of what you experience takes some getting used to. Unfortunately, there is a lot of violence in the more densely populated parts of the country, and vigilante justice is quite widespread. You hardly encounter any tourists. It is a country full of contrasts that you must grapple with.
Papua New Guinea is certainly one of the most enticing, multi-faceted countries on this earth. Its landscape is diverse, offering everything from beautiful ocean beaches and coral reefs with options for diving, fishing and bathing to mountainous regions; you can hike up Mount Wilhelm or visit a coffee bean roastery in the highlands, for example. You can also take a tour of the jungle or explore the banks of the Sepik River that runs through it, navigating the waterway in a dugout. And then there is the contrast between the modern city of Port Moresby with its high-rise buildings, streets and other present-day amenities and well over 750 tribes, each with their own language, most of whom live as self-providers dispersed across the country with no electricity or running water.
This is where our work began, because options for healthcare are limited. Of course there are hospitals in relatively large urban centers, but many people live far removed from them without motorization or access to public transportation. So-called health posts provide basic medical care, but it often takes hours to even reach these outposts. And one mustn’t forget that most people have very limited monetary resources.
Our work day at the Christian Braun Memorial Hospital always begins with the morning devotion – a small circle of people singing songs and saying prayers –, followed by night report, which is to say, the handover of night to day duty. Surgeries are performed two days a week. On the other days there are doctor’s rounds, consultation hours for out-patients and of course surgical emergency duty. There are usually two or three physicians on duty at our hospital, who share night duty with no nights off.
These are the structures that help us do the best we can under difficult circumstances.