People in distress at sea must be rescued! Following this principle, we operate in the central Mediterranean Sea with our rescue ship Humanity 1 to save refugees from drowning.
During and after their rescue from distress at sea, the care and health of the survivors have first priority: many are exhausted, dehydrated or hypothermic. Others are chronically ill, have suffered injuries or had psychologically traumatic experiences during their flight. Therefore, one of our most urgent goals is to care for the rescued people on board and provide them with medical and psychological support.
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In this overview article, we explain how we implement this goal on board Humanity 1, and provide emergency care for those rescued. Come on board to meet our care team, learn about the steps that are followed once the survivors arrive on deck, and find out what’s in our rescue kit and how our onboard clinic is equipped!
The Care Team on Humanity 1
Health has both a physical and a mental component. This understanding is also reflected in the composition of our care team on board Humanity 1. In concrete terms, this means that we have one person each with a medical, rescue/nursing, obstetric and psychological background respectively in the team, plus the position of protection officer.
In addition, each team member is prepared in training sessions to be able to provide physical and psychological first aid in an emergency.
Leads and coordinates the care team based on the necessary activities and skills.
Responsible for the registration of survivors after their arrival on board and their protection.
Identifies people in psychological distress and provides psychological support as part of the first aid.
Leads the medical team, is responsible for the onboard clinic and provides medical treatment.
Responsible for the medical care of survivors in cooperation with the doctor and the midwife.
Provides medical care for women, including pregnant women, and babies.
Helps with translation work and creates understanding for cultural differences.
Arrival on board
As each rescue operation is different, the arrival of the rescued people on deck is always dependent on the individual circumstances. How many people are rescued, how many children, elderly or weakened people are among them, and whether there are any medical emergencies are all important factors that influence the preparations on board.
That is why the two teams, at sea and on board, are in regular contact. While the search and rescue team is on the water, the care team and all other available team members are preparing for the arrival of survivors.
Registration is prepared and so-called rescue kits are provided. If there are any medical emergencies, the team on board is informed in advance and can prepare necessary medical equipment – such as a stretcher. arrival
Welcome: a small gesture
Team members help rescued people from the ship’s ladder onto the deck, where they are always welcomed first. It is only a small gesture, but welcoming people is important to make a first contact and let them know: you are welcome here, and you are safe!
In the process, a procedure for classifying medical needs (triage) may already take place as people arrive on board. Depending on the situation, medical treatment can take place immediately – such as circulatory stabilisation – or the person in question is immediately taken to the onboard clinic for immediate emergency care.
Fast check: smell of petrol
In addition, the team members who welcome survivors check whether they smell of petrol or appear disoriented. Both can indicate that they have been exposed to the highly corrosive petrol/water mixture, which often gathers at the bottom of the inflatable boats, for a longer period of time. For these cases, an emergency shower is located directly in front of the clinic. In this way, serious skin injuries can be treated immediately.
After the life jacket has been taken off, registration and the distribution of the rescue kits takes place. Registration is another measure the care team uses to get an overview of medical cases and people in need of special protection. The registration also serves to record the exact number of people rescued and how many children, women, pregnant women or other vulnerable persons are among them.
All survivors receive a rescue kit when they arrive on board. Because many people are hypothermic, it contains warm and dry clothing as well as a thick fleece blanket.
The kit also contains drinking water as well as easily digestible and nutritious energy bars to counteract the dehydration and nutritional deficiencies that often occur during the difficult journey across the sea.
In addition, the kit contains a towel, toothbrush, toothpaste and soap so that people who have been rescued can take care of their most basic hygiene needs. Once registered, all have the opportunity to shower and change clothes.
The cost of a rescue kit is €41.70 per item.
Our onboard clinic
Acute medical emergencies are treated by the medical team either immediately on deck or, if transport is possible, in our onboard clinic.
The clinic is equipped with two stretchers, two mobile defibrillators and one fixed defibrillator, as well as ventilators with oxygen bottles and surgical equipment.
You can read more about the equipment in the clinic and the types of treatment provided in this interview with Michael, who works as an emergency paramedic and helped with the installation of the clinic.
However, not only emergencies are treated at the clinic. There are many factors that influence the state of health of refugees:
Physical factors related to experiences of flight
These include lack of nutrition, the effects of a lack of medical care, but also injuries, dermatological complaints or seasickness.
Psychological factors related to experiences of flight
These include the effects of various experiences of violence during their journey– and especially in Libya.
These include, for example, chronic illnesses, but also pregnancies.
Our onboard clinic is stocked with ointments and bandages for the treatment of wounds, suitable medication for skin diseases, as well as (fever-reducing) painkillers and medication for seasickness. Medicines for the treatment of asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart failure are also available.
In addition, we have the possibility to perform ultrasound examinations and can respond to the special medical needs of pregnant women and babies.
With just €46, we can provide medical care for 100 survivors per day.
A special position: the Mental Health Officer
In order to ensure the necessary psychological first aid for survivors, our care team is multi-disciplinary and includes the position of Mental Health Officer.
On the one hand, those rescued are informed about the offer of psychological first aid and can contact the crew on board at any time. On the other hand, the Mental Health Officer also spends a lot of time on deck, including interacting with survivors to identify and respond to signs of psychological distress.
You can read the observations of our Mental Health Officer Lisa here.
On board Humanity 1, we can provide professional primary emergency care to those rescued. In order to ensure that their protection needs and their rights are also respected after their arrival on land, we document the protection needs known to us.
These are shared with the relevant organisations or specialised agencies on land even before the survivors disembark. In this way, we can work towards ensuring that appropriate precautions have already been taken when people who have been rescued arrive at a safe place.
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