Since its foundation in the eleventh century, the Order of Malta has cared for society’s most vulnerable. Today in over 100 countries its programmes support those in need. For example, recently the Order helped control the ebola epidemic in Africa. That crisis was contained in a few countries. This time the crisis is global. What is new is that in this epidemic, it is the donor countries which have been affected first.
Support has always been centred around closeness, care and the comfort of praying together. In respecting governments’ guidelines, that support cannot be given now; praying together is no longer possible. The Order’s soup kitchens worldwide are closed. All home visits to the elderly are limited, visits to residential care homes restricted, support work with underprivileged children suspended. Nevertheless, the crisis has led to new ways to care for the vulnerable: online networks and telephone hot lines and care for mental health, food parcels distribution, shopping for the elderly, online “after school” programmes for the children.
In France, to counteract the impact on their healthcare people, and those they assist, there are two Order hotlines – for general questions from staff and volunteers , weekdays 9-6, and for emergencies, 24/7, all staffed by volunteers. In the United States, all local Order organisations are in telephone touch with those they help. In Switzerland an app is being developed so volunteers can maintain contact with those they care for. In Zululand, South Africa, the Order’s HIV care centre is filled with immune deficient patients. Basic services continue, but the centre depends on donations, and these are in jeopardy. In Italy, the Order’s Emergency Relief Service is helping construct a hospital at Fiera di Milano, and supplying it with 260 ventilators sourced from China; they offer psychological care to both volunteers and sufferers; in Bergamo, 30 volunteer medics have arrived from Albania to add support. In Germany, the Order’s volunteers include 4000 drivers – they cannot transport children or the elderly so they are moving into ambulance services; 30 psychology teams in their civil protection units give support to healthcare workers and to the public. In Romania, children follow “online school” programmes organised by Order volunteers.
Ingo Radkte, Head of Malteser International, the Order’s worldwide relief agency, said: “A significant part of our work involves helping communities protect themselves against the spread of infectious diseases. We are adapting to provide displaced people and others in need with health, nutrition, water, and hygiene materials. This has never been more critical.”
Markus Bensmann, Head, Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, Order of Malta Germany, predicts: “The world will build up stocks of ventilators and masks. And for the future, closeness will return.”
Philippa Leslie, Communications Director for the Order of Malta in Great Britain
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