The Holy Family Hospital is about to pass an important milestone – that of the 100,000th child born since the Order of Malta has been managing the health facility in Bethlehem. Since 1990, more than 4,600 children have been born here every year, assisted by a staff of 200 including doctors, nurses and midwives.
The hospital, located a few steps from the Church of the Nativity, is the only one in the area to have a neonatal intensive care unit for babies of less than 24 weeks’ gestation. “The pandemic emergency has had strong repercussions on the local community already afflicted by the economic crisis,” explains Grand Hospitaller Fra’ Alessandro de Franciscis during a meeting with the international press precisely in Bethlehem. “This has led to an increase in premature births and an increase in the mothers’ pathologies,” added the Grand Hospitaller, describing the work done by doctors, especially in the 18-bed intensive care unit. Here, parents can be present 24 hours a day with their children; like Maisan, a young Palestinian mother waiting to bring home her baby who was born preterm. For her there is a happy ending, but for others the outcome is different, says the director of the intensive care unit: “Some children are born with genetic malformations or metabolic diseases and there is no hope for them; our task is to alleviate their suffering and make their brief existence as painless as possible”.
The care and dedication of the doctors and nurses is tangible. An impeccable organization reigns among the incubators, the cots, the dozens of tubes feeding infants and the constant, regular beeps of the sensors. The staff move around with delicacy and professionalism. “The hospital is an oasis of peace in a difficult territory,” explains the Order of Malta’s Ambassador to Palestine, Michèle Bowe. “For us it is very important to involve the local community to stop the dispersion of Christians. This is why the hospital offers scholarships in health disciplines to young Palestinian girls from poor families. This gives them the opportunity to specialize and to live in the Holy Land,” says Michèle Bowe. Over 70% of the hospital’s employees are women, both Christian and Muslim; 45% of patients are refugees, as well as 21% of the staff.
In addition to a pharmacy, a laboratory and a training centre, the hospital runs the Well Women clinic for menopausal women and the Mobile Medical Unit that assists remote communities and isolated villages in the desert surrounding Bethlehem. Every week the ambulance – equipped with an ultrasound and a cot – visits Bedouin villages which often have no water or electricity. For many women this is the only healthcare they have, so when the ambulance arrives, they are already waiting in line, their medical records in hand. On board the mobile unit there is a paediatrician who visits children and carries out vaccinations and a nurse/midwife who explains to us how important it is to respect the local culture and traditions to encourage women to seek healthcare. “Many of these women,” explains the nurse, “have children one after the other and this can cause health problems that are often neglected, such as hypertension or diabetes. Thanks to this regular presence we have been able to establish relationships of trust with the inhabitants of these places”.
To increase the hospital’s range of action, a new pavilion is being built that will allow a greater number of young patients to be treated. An intensification of the mobile unit’s programme of visits to the most remote regions of the West Bank is already being considered.