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Humanitarian and Medical Activities

Medical and humanitarian activities of the Order of Malta

Following its historic mission to help the sick, the needy and the most disadvantaged in society, the Order of Malta continues its work today, operating in more than 120 countries. Its programmes include medical and social assistance, disaster relief in the case of armed conflicts and natural catastrophes, emergency services and first aid corps, help for the elderly, the handicapped and children in need and the provision of first aid training, and support for refugees and internally displaced persons regardless of race, origin or religion. The Order of Malta has been operating with this impartial perspective for over 900 years, caring for people of all beliefs – muslim, orthodox, catholic, protestant, jewish, roma. The Order relies on the involvement of its 13,000 members, as well as approximately 80,000 trained volunteers and 13,000 employees, the majority of whom are medical personnel. The Order's organisations worldwide (Grand Priories, National Associations, relief organisations and foundations) are responsible for carrying out its activities, both in its the permanent institutions - such as hospitals, outpatient medical centres and old peoples' homes - and with its socio-medical and humanitarian programmes.

Emergency corps and ambulance services

The Order of Malta’s relief organisations and ambulance corps operate in over 30 countries. They perform first aid, disaster relief and social services. In addition, they carry out extensive work with the young and to this end the Order trains thousands of volunteers each year in first aid. Since the foundation in Ireland in 1938 of the ambulance corps, it has become a major provider of first-aid training, ambulance transport and community care services. The service offers first aid, ambulance and emergency care services in most of Ireland’s principal cities and towns, and through its youth section provides youth development programmes and sporting activities. The establishment of relief services has also been very successful in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989, and more recently, in Morocco, where the opening of an institute for ambulance teams in Casablanca in 2006 has meant the provision of training and employment for its young people in an essential field. The social commitment which is demonstrated through this organised approach has a special appeal for the young and inspires their resolve to volunteer their help for these humanitarian initiatives.

Hospitals, medical centres and medical programmes

Most of the Order’s hospitals are situated in Europe – in particular in Germany, France, England and Italy, with the majority as general hospitals. The Order’s hospital in Rome is specialised in neurological treatment and rehabilitation. The hospital in England, and some in Germany, have special units for the treatment of the terminally ill, with appropriate palliative specialists. Similar special units work in Argentina, Australia, Italy, South Africa and the United States. Care for the terminally ill in hospitals, hospices and at home has developed during recent years into one of the key projects among the Order’s activities. The combination of round-the-clock care and specially trained volunteers in an environment which operates according to Catholic ethics is an important part of the Order’s medical involvement. As a joint activity of the whole Order, a maternity hospital in Bethlehem, Palestine, is run under the operational responsibilities of the French Association. The hospital provides the population of Bethlehem and its surroundings with an indispensable service, offering women of the region the only possible place to give birth under European medical standards. Since 1990, more than 50,000 babies have been born there. The wages paid to the 140 local employees provide support for over 2,000 people. The Order runs 11 medical centres in Lebanon, three of which were badly damaged in the recent conflicts but have now been restored to full service, caring for the local populations of the country’s four major religious groups. Entire regions depend on this healthcare and the centres provide 250,000 medical services a year, not including innumerable local medical visits to the smaller villages. As well as the medical centres and the hospitals it runs in France, the French Association runs hospitals and dispensaries in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Madagascar and Togo. In Senegal and Cambodia the Order runs special hospitals for leprosy sufferers. For a long time leprosy relief has been one of the main activities of the Order’s work in the Third World. With its special organisation, the Comite International de l’Ordre de Malte (CIOMAL), based in Geneva and founded specifically for this purpose, the Order takes care of the national leprosy programme in Cambodia and assists in leprosy relief in other countries, with a special focus in Brazil. The Order also operates many medical centres around the world. In Italy there are specialised institutions for the care of diabetics. There is a similar institution in Prague, Czech Republic, for children. The institutions founded in Lebanon and El Salvador during the civil wars, are now an important part of their national health systems. In the United States the American, Federal, and Western Associations, operate a hospital, in the north of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It has 64 beds, a paediatric wing, specialty outpatient clinics, maternity services, and a modern laboratory. It is the only hospital in the region. The Dominican Association runs specialist centres providing medical services for mothers and children. There are also medical centres in Poland, Hungary, the United States, Brazil, Peru and South Africa. In developing countries, many hospitals, medical centres and dispensaries are supported, and at times directed, by the Order. Another important contribution is the collection and sorting of medicines, set up by the Order in France and approved by the World Health Organisation. An annual average of 100 tonnes of medicines and nutritional products and 130 tonnes of medical equipment is sent to African countries. AIDS programmes are underway in Africa and Central America, with special institutions caring for afflicted mothers and their infants in South Africa and Mexico.

Institutions and services for the disabled

In France the Order maintains nine specialised medical centres for the disabled. There are also centres for the disabled in Hungary, Poland, Lebanon, Ecuador and the United States. In Ireland, the Order offers a wide range of services for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, including targeted rehabilitation and training pathways, computer courses as well as holiday packages with educational activities. In addition, the Order’s Associations carry out many other activities for disabled people, including running yearly pilgrimages to Lourdes and to other pilgrimage sites. Every year for the past 27 years the Order has organised an international summer camp in Europe for the young disabled, as well as running at national level annual camps in Austria, Hungary, Romania, Switzerland and the Lebanon.

Institutions and relief for old people

Increasingly significant are the activities of relief for the elderly. The Order directs numerous specialised centres for old people in England, Germany, Spain, Austria, the United States, Chile and Mexico. In various countries there is a variety of services to make life at home easier for old people. This includes providing meals on wheels, transport services, visiting services, shopping help and the operation of emergency call systems.

Humanitarian emergency relief

Humanitarian relief for the victims of natural disasters or armed conflicts is one of the Order of Malta’s traditional tasks. It was taken up again in the mid nineteenth century and carried out during the First and Second World Wars. In the second half of the twentieth century these commitments increased. Over the last fifty years, the Order’s main relief actions have been: relief for refugees during the Hungarian crisis in 1956; setting up and running a field hospital during the Vietnam war; relief service in Thailand over many years; medical assistance during the civil wars in Lebanon and El Salvador; refugee relief during the Kurd crisis; refugee relief in the Great Lakes district of Africa; various extensive actions during the Balkan crisis (1999); earthquake relief in Italy in the late 1970s and in 1997; in Colombia and Turkey in 1999, El Salvador in 2000; repeated flood and hurricane catastrophe relief in the Ukraine, Hungary and Romania, in Honduras in 1998, in Poland in 1999. From the start of this century, flood and hurricane relief was provided in Mozambique in 2000 and 2001; refugee relief in Afghanistan (since 2001); refugee aid in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2003); earthquake aid and reconstruction aid in Bam, Iran (2004); refugee relief in Darfur, Sudan (2004); tsunami relief in South- and South-East Asia (2005); help to the starving populations of Niger and Mali (2005); aid for hurricane victims, New Orleans, USA (2005); help for earthquake victims, Pakistan (2005); medical assistance for earthquake victims Java, Indonesia (2006); relief for earthquake victims in Peru (2007), emergency aid after the flooding in the Mexican state of Tabasco (2007), humanitarian relief after the cyclone in Myanmar (2008). Many of these actions were carried out by Malteser International, the Order’s worldwide relief service, which provides emergency support to victims of natural disasters and civil conflicts. It also runs rehabilitation and reconstruction projects, often in partnership with United Nations (UN) agencies, international organisations and local entities in the affected areas. On many occasions, the Order, through Malteser International, has taken over the medical care of UN peace missions (in Central America, Kuwait, East Timor, Balkans, Afghanistan). The Order’s neutrality and its impartial and non-political nature make relief actions possible in situations where access by other organisations is difficult. The Order’s diplomatic representatives give much valued support in the countries concerned.

International Organizations

The International Hospitaller Committee of the Order of Malta coordinates the international activities of the Order’s national associations and organizations. Its mission is to promote the activities of the Order and the identity of its institutions which operate at the international level, in accordance with the Order’s mission. It is presided over by the Grand Hospitaller and has its headquarters in the Magistral Palace in Rome.
Malteser International is the Order of Malta’s international relief organisation for medical and humanitarian aid. Its worldwide operations include emergency medical interventions, long term reconstruction and development programmes. Since 2005, Malteser International has replaced ECOM (Emergency Corps of the Order of Malta). A new structure, but with more than 50 years experience in humanitarian operations. There are 20 Order of Malta Associations belonging to Malteser International: Austria, Belgium, France, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Mexico, Australia, Singapore and the three Associations in the United States of America. Malteser International – which currently runs missions in 30 countries – has its headquarters in Cologne, Germany. For further information on Malteser International: www.malteser-international.org
CIOMAL, the International Committee of the Order of Malta, was created in 1958 and for 50 years has been fighting leprosy and helping those marginalised by society as a result of having the disease. CIOMAL’s two major current projects are in South East Asia and South America. CIOMAL finances and manages the care centres where prevention, medical assistance, social rehabilitation and medical staff training are organised in collaboration with the government of the hosting country. Today, due to the availability of new medical treatments, important results have been achieved in the battle against the disease. Leprosy will eventually disappear as a life-threatening illness, but in the meantime, CIOMAL continues to offer medical care to sufferers in the countries at risk. To date, 17,000 leprosy patients have been cured. CIOMAL, which has headquarters in Geneva, is affiliated to the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations and collaborates with the World Health Organisation; its programmes are carried out in accordance with their directives.
The new challenges posed by controversial and emerging questions in Bioethics brought various national Associations of the Order of Malta to create the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists, whose mission is to promote and foster cooperation among Catholic bioethicists. By creating a network for international collaboration, the IACB seeks to increase the capacity of Catholic bioethicists to participate in public discussions and to promote ethics in health care and research globally. Bioethicists associated with the IACB join a community of supportive peers, receive information relevant to their work, and participate in IACB-sponsored events and projects such as an international colloquium every two years; national and regional colloquia; collaborations in education, research and publications. IACB was launched in Toronto in August 2003, during the 1st International colloquium on “Globalization and the Culture of Life” organised by the Canadian Association of the Order of Malta and the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute in Toronto: 57 bioethicists from 19 countries on five continents participated. In 2004 the secretariat was set up in Toronto with the support of several national Associations of the Order of Malta. Since then, three other International Colloquia have been held in different countries, the most recent in Cologne in July 2009. A fifth one is scheduled for 2011. For more information, please visit: http://www.iacbweb.org/

Bethlehem's Hospital

The Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, Palestine, is a joint project across the Order of Malta, under the operational responsibilities of the French Association of the Order. The hospital provides the population of Bethlehem and its surrounding area with an indispensable service, offering the only possible place for women of the region to give birth under good medical conditions. Since 1990 more than 50,000 babies have been born in the hospital. Its primary objective is to offer high-quality maternity care to all women, regardless of race, religion, culture or social condition. American and European specialists have confirmed that the hospital operates according to an excellent western European standard. Because of the continuing unstable political and the very tight economic situation, the need for the hospital services has increased. Palestine has no national health care system and therefore the hospital’s operating costs are sustained by the Order of Malta. Patients are asked to pay what they can afford. The charge for total antenatal care, accommodation, delivery including all medications is $60. For those unable to pay, charges are reduced or waived. The heavy financial burden is borne by the French Association, with help from the National Associations of Germany, USA, Ireland and Switzerland and by the European Union. Recently the “Holy Family Hospital Foundation” – an organisation created by American members of the Order – has raised funds that have provided an important contribution to ensure the hospital’s continuing operation. For more information: http://www.orderofmalta.org/medical-and-humanitarian-activities/208/?lang=en or www.holyfamilyhospital-bethlehem.org