The Covid-19 pandemic is deeply affecting the work of the Order of Malta: its Grand Priories, Associations and relief corps spread across the world offering sociomedical care have had to adjust to this unprecedented, global health crisis. Staff are being trained in order to continue ensuring aid assistance in safety. Programmes bringing relief to the needy and the sick have been scaled up to respond to the tremendous strain on the national health systems of the countries hit by the pandemic. The Order is thoroughly engaged in supporting hospital, medical centers, ambulance services and at the same time is continuing wherever possible its activities in support of the elderly and disabled people who are particularly at risk at this moment, and many of whom are suffering isolation, and the homeless and people in need particularly under strain in this moment in time.
Numerous requests for help are received every day by the Order of Malta’s structures. Unfortunately, only part of them can be met because of the complexity of the situation and the need to give priority to the continuity of the Order’s medical and social programmes.
Here is a brief summary of some of the projects underway:
The Order of Malta’s relief corps in Albania is delivering medicines, food and hygienic materials to the elderly guests of the Community Centre in Shkoder.
In Austria a crisis team coordinating communication with public health services, staff and providing information has been established. Support for the installation of a large field hospital in the Vienna Exhibition Centre (4000 beds) and in the Salzburg Exhibition Centre (700 beds), has been provided. In Vienna volunteers are distributing food to the homeless and the needy.
The British Association of the Order of Malta is providing special funds to care for the elderly people in their care and for the staff who look after them. In England the Order manages 70 Homes for the elderly in 4 counties. In all houses the necessary precautions have been taken to avoid the spread of the contagion. To keep contacts going, the Order of Malta is donating towards the provision of iPads for use by residents, so that they can communicate visually with their families and doctors, whilst they cannot leave the Homes. In addition, the Companions of the Order of Malta (the Order’s auxiliary organization) have set up a ‘Call Companions’ programme to assist wherever possible the elderly.
In France volunteers of the Order of Malta have been working round the clock in close collaboration with the Emergency Medical Service, along with volunteers from the French Red Cross, the Seine Civil Protection in Paris and the French Federation for Relief and First Aid. One of the activities is the transfer of intensive care patients by train from one hospital to another. Along the emergency activities, Ordre de Malte France continues to provide assistance to the homeless and in the aftermath of the health crisis has in fact scaled up its food distribution activities. Only in Paris food parcels are distributed twice a day by 70 volunteers.
In total, 2019 hospital beds in the 11 hospitals of the Order of Malta in Germany are available;92 intensive care places and further 41 intensive care places are planned. The hospitals are currently treating 24 Covid-19 patients, including 15 respiratory patients and additionally 54 suspected cases. In elderly care facilities most patients are in in quarantine. In all institutions, preparations are being made to prevent incidents of increased infections. The same applies to the migration facilities managed by the Order. All the Order’s units throughout Germany are ready to take action with the establishment and functioning of corona test stations; the care of quarantine facilities, including separate quarantine facilities for refugees; the transfer of patients to other hospitals. In addition, temporary hospitals are being built up in many places. Services going beyond disaster control are also increasing like transport service for the emergency medical service of the health insurance companies; establishment and operation of mobile medical practices. An online platform and a central telephone hotline where help and support can be requested has been established. In the context of psychosocial emergency care a telephone counselling service for full-time and volunteer staff has been established.
In Hungary a new informative webpage koronavirus.maltai.hu provides new content daily. The Order of Malta relief organization started the production of washable and re-usable face masks in the sewing workshop, within the Government integration program for Roma people. A new service has been developed to provide the 30 houses for elderly or disabled persons with basic need items.
Italy’s Order of Malta’s relief corps has participated in the construction of a new hospital in the Fiera di Milano, in Lombardy, the region which has recorded most casualties and cases of the Covid-19 and whose health system is under enormous pressure. The first two wards with 30 intensive-care beds will be opening by the end of this week and will be one of the largest intensive-care facilities in Europe and will receive the most severe coronavirus cases from overwhelmed hospitals in Lombardy. Volunteers of the Order’s Military Corps are also involved in the setting up of a field hospital in Crema, another Lombardy city greatly affected by the health emergency. Order of Malta volunteers are assisting Covid-19 patients on the hospital ship that the Ligurian Region has set up in the port of Genoa. A section of the Order’s St. John Baptist hospital in Rome has been converted in record time to welcome new patients by placing them in quarantine and avoiding any infections. One department has been equipped to handle cases of coronavirus patients. Once the security measures have been activated, the hospital continues to function normally.Volunteers from the Italian Relief Corps are also at the forefront throughout the country providing medical assistance and delivering food and necessities, in addition to cooperating with the national health service facilities. Home delivery of food, medicines and essential goods to the elderly and disabled take place in Veneto, Umbria, Tuscany, Liguria, Calabria, Sicily, Campania, Puglia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Lazio A new hotline service providing psychological support has also been set up to counsel health professionals and people struggling with the quarantine or with health issues.
Activities run by the Irish Association of the Order of Malta and its volunteer auxiliaries in caring for the elderly, the vulnerable, the marginalized and the homeless continue. Even though the premises of Malta Services Drogheda are closed temporarily in compliance with the government’s directives in this crisis, the work continues. Its staff operate a Community & Remote Support Service. The Irish Association and its Ambulance Corps have been monitoring the evolving situation daily and cooperating closely with the Irish Government and other volunteer organisations. The Joint Volunteer Council for coordinating emergency operations nationwide is being accommodated and facilitated in the Order’s national headquarters in Dublin. Meanwhile, the Order’s Ambulance Corps continues with its work in supporting local communities.
In Lithuania the Order of Malta’s Relief Organization has taken action to protect the elderly and the volunteers. The “meals on wheels” projects and home care are all ongoing with the support of groceries and supermarkets. A fundraising campaign “Help Lithuanian doctors” is also underway, Volunteers also help to distribute respirators, face masks, protective overalls and protective glasses.
In Portugal 4 campaign tents have been set up in two Hospitals in the North of Portugal. 16 campaign tents are ready to function in coordination with the National Authority. In collaboration with the Porto City Council assistance to the homeless is provided.
Romania is also fighting its battle against coronavirus and has set up a crisis group which is constantly monitoring official communication from the government in order to implement health protocols issued. All elderly facilities are working continuously, with proper Covid-19 precautions in place, as well as the meal distribution activities in many cities across the country, including the “meals of wheels” projects for the sick. Volunteers are also providing homework support to needy children from vulnerable communities and a fundraising campaign to purchase equipment for public hospitals is underway. Hotlines have also been installed in several cities in cooperation with the local municipalities and other relief organizations, to give recommendations and indications. The Order’s embassy in the country launched a campaign to provide facial shields to doctors, paramedics and NGO staff working with risk groups. The goal is to provide 60,000 facial shields.
In Slovakia volunteers of the Order are involved in donating basic goods to hospitals and people in need.
In Spain, which has now overtaken China for the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, the Order of Malta is trying to maintain its regular activities for the poor and the sick. In Madrid the association is delivering warm meals to the poor on a regular basis in different facilities for a total of 280 meals per day. Poor families, some with members who are sick, are also being helped with food and good deliveries. Over a dozen of members and volunteers are also taking part in the works to convert a hotel, offered by a member of the Order, into an emergency hospital for Covid-19 patients and in Cantabria alcohol-based disinfectants and face masks are being manufactured for the Order of Malta’s activities.
All the Order of Malta’s assistance centres in Lebanon and its Medical Mobile Unites follow a strict protocol to ensure the safety and security of all the staff and patients. The centres continue to work securing the most important consultations and the medicine, especially for patients with chronic diseases. The staff is gathering lists of the most vulnerable who cannot reach the centres, reaching out to them in their homes to deliver their monthly medicines. A hotline for each center has been set up for non-emergency cases, encouraging tele-consultations with a close follow-up from doctors.
Most importantly, the Mobile Medical Units are up and running in the most remote areas, in close collaboration with the municipalities. Only on Wednesday 1 April, the Akkar MMU treated 106 patients and the North East Beqaa, 98 patients in the village of Arsal. A strict protocol is applied: patients are screened upon their arrival, the waiting area is setup with enough distancing space, sanitization is done before entering the MMU. Covid-19 prevention measures and awareness are provided while people are waiting. Medical consultations and drugs are given for free.
In Palestine the situation is especially worrying due to the lack of medical equipment such as ventilators and oxygen and the shortage of masks, alcohol and disinfectants. The Order of Malta’s Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, which has the one and only neonatal intensive care unit in the whole region, continues its precious work. Despite the difficult circumstances 285 babies were born in the month of March. The staff regularly contacts the Bedouin living in isolated communities for telemedicine visits and pregnant women have been allowed to leave their communities to deliver their babies at the Hospital.
In Syria with its partner organisations, the Order’s worldwide relief agency Malteser International, continues to run and re-enforce the health capacities – hospitals and primary health care centres alike – and will heighten its activities in the WASH sector (water, sanitation, hygiene) by distributing more water and hygiene articles and help repair the very poor sanitation structure in the camps and informal settlements.
Kits of first need items have been distributed in Bangladesh along with an intensification of the programs of basic needs
Faced with the threat of the coronavirus, CIOMAL Foundation teams of the Order of Malta who deal specifically with the treatment and research on the Hansen disease, have reorganised the handling of current affairs in Cambodia and the follow-up of patients and their families are now carried out remotely. Khmer language communication groups have been set up to enable non-English-speaking employees to keep in touch. To date, the activities of the CIOMAL Foundation have continued normally. Since the beginning of the year, teams have carried out eight surgeries; about twenty patients have been hospitalized; the socio-economic rehabilitation missions in the field have been ongoing and a first leprosy detection campaign in the South of the country was organized. The safety of patients and teams is top priority: hygiene measures have been reinforced since mid-February: provision of soap, masks and hydro-alcoholic disinfectants, systematic measurement of body temperature of all patients (in consultation and hospitalization), prohibition of visits. Stocks of soap, disinfectant solution, gloves and masks are sufficient to cover our needs until the summer.
In Thailand, Malteser International, in close collaboration with the Order’s Ambassador to Thailand has been implementing health screenings with infrared thermometers.
The Order of Malta has a strong presence in Africa, in over 30 countries where it runs many hospitals and dispensaries. Most activities are continuing to function despite the growing cases of Covid-19. The medical centres managed by Ordre de Malte France in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Chad, Togo continue to operate despite the implementation of prevention measures and the reorganization required by local authorities.
With the exception of South Sudan, numerous cases of coronavirus have now occurred in all Malteser International’s (the Order of Malta’s worldwide relief agency) countries of operation in Africa and governments are responding with curfews and the closure of airports. All international staff are still in their respective workstations.
Malteser International (MI) projects are ongoing, but with restrictions, especially in the area of training measures. That is only possible under increased security measures and with fewer participants. The staff is working under high pressure on the procurement of protective equipment for employees, especially for the medical staff of its partners. All health and WASH projects are currently being “converted” to Covid-19 prevention.
In DR Congo the isolation ward used during the Ebola response is now being used for Covid-19 response.
In South Sudan MI is supporting creative messages to inform the public about COVID-19 in Juba, South Sudan. These include street theatre shows and radio spot featuring corona songs.
In Uganda, MI is working on developing a behavior change communication plan focusing on hygiene and sanitation targeted at refugee populations and host communities around Rhino Camp Settlement. This initiative will also include the distribution of WASH items like hand sanitizers.
Funding for the establishment of the 1st isolation ward in Kampala, Uganda has been secured. The ward will be located inside the Lubaga Hospital, run by a Catholic partner organization. Medical personnel and staff have already received training as part of the programme to establish national emergency services and improve emergency care in hospitals including triage. The programme included an exchange with Germany that drew on the expertise of Malteser healthcare workers in Germany. Malteser International health experts in Africa will now also train the hospital and others in dealing with epidemics.
In South Africa the medical and social center the “Brotherhood of Blessed Gerard” is bracing for a possible outburst of the epidemic, which – in region which registers soaring numbers of HIV cases – can represent a true catastrophe. The minister of Health prognoses that 60 – 70% of the entire population of South Africa (59 Million) may become infected with Coronavirus, i.e. about 40 Million. Activities to provide assistance to the sick, the elderly, and the children have been reorganized to reduce possible contagions. Father Gerard’s Hospice takes care of altogether 40 immunocompromised and frail geriatric patients; it has supplied to 700 patients AIDS-treatment Programme with antiretroviral medication for two months allowing them to stay safely at home. The Home Care Programme can only attend to emergencies for the time being and the personnel is strengthening the ranks of the hospice inpatient. The Children’s Home has 55 children, and a good number of them have previous conditions that make them especially vulnerable. The Malnutrition Clinic has given out baby food to last over the expected lockdown period as well.
The Order of Malta’s House of Care mobile medical clinic, in the United States, in Connecticut, in cooperation with the local Hospital, has set up a drive-through for coronavirus testing near a busy circular driveway. The Federal Association is assuring food distribution and the activity of a soup kitchen.
In Haiti Malteser International has started a hygiene campaign and is offering assistance to the elderly. In Puerto Rico the Order’s delegation is continuing to bring assistance to the homeless and to the people in need. Boxes containing food and primary good are being distributed regularly.
All the activities of the Order of Malta’ Association in Mexico continue after measures have been put in place to reduce the risk represented by the spread of the virus. All staff have undergone a training course. The distribution of food to the people assisted and protective equipment to medical and social centres continues.
In Colombia Malteser International has intensified its health and hygiene education activities aimed at migrants and refugees as well as host communities in La Guajira department. Health personnel have also received extensive training on protective measures for Covid – 19. In addition to scaling up mobile medical missions to remote and border areas, Malteser International has distributed hygiene articles to people in need.