Rome (Agenzia Fides) - The Covid-19 pandemic is profoundly influencing the activity of the Order of Malta, which every day offers social and health assistance around the world, but has now had to adapt to this unprecedented global crisis. The staff has been trained to continue to ensure safe assistance. Programs that bring relief to the needy and the sick have been expanded to respond to the enormous pressure on the national health systems of the countries affected by the pandemic, according to a statement sent to Agenzia Fides. The Order is committed to supporting hospitals, medical centers, ambulance services and, at the same time, continues, where possible, its activities in support of the elderly and disabled people, who are particularly at risk at the moment, as well as homeless people and all people in need.
Here are some of the ongoing activities in Africa and Asia, according to the note sent to Fides. The Order of Malta is present in Africa in over 30 countries, where it runs numerous hospitals and dispensaries. Most activities continue despite the growing number of Covid-19 cases. The medical centers run by Ordre de Malte France continue to operate in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Chad, Togo and Chad, despite the implementation of preventive measures and reorganization required by local authorities.
With the exception of South Sudan, numerous cases of coronavirus have now occurred in all countries where Malteser International (MI, the Order of Malta's worldwide relief agency) operates, and governments are responding with curfews and the closure of airports. All international staff are still in their respective workstations.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the isolation department used during Ebola's response is now used for Covid-19's response. In South Sudan the MI spreads messages with all means to inform the population of Juba, including street theater performances and radio commercials. In Uganda the MI is working on the development of a communication plan to change behaviors, focused on hygiene and sanitation, aimed at refugee populations and host communities around the Rhino Camp Settlement. This initiative will also include the distribution of items such as hand sanitizers. In South Africa, the "Fratellanza del Beato Gerardo" medical and social center is preparing for a possible outbreak of the epidemic, which - in the region with an increasing number of HIV cases - can represent a real catastrophe. The Health Minister predicts that 60-70% of the entire South African population (59 million) could be infected, that is, about 40 million people. Assistance activities for the sick, the elderly and children have been reorganized to reduce possible infections.
In Asia kits of basic necessities have been distributed in Bangladesh, together with an intensification of primary needs programs. In the face of the threat of coronavirus, the teams of the CIOMAL Foundation of the Order of Malta, which specifically deal with the treatment and research on Hansen's disease, have reorganized the current management in Cambodia. Communication groups in Khmer language have been created to allow non-English speaking employees to stay in touch. In Thailand, Malteser International, in close collaboration with the Ambassador of the Order in Thailand, carried out health screening with infrared thermometers.
For the Middle East, all Order of Malta assistance centers in Lebanon and the Order of Malta's mobile medical units follow a rigorous protocol to ensure the safety of all staff and patients. The centers continue to work to ensure essential medical visits and medicines, especially for patients with chronic diseases. The staff is collecting the list of the most vulnerable who cannot reach the centers, contacting them in their homes in order to deliver the monthly medicines. For each center, a hotline for non-urgent cases was created, encouraging tele-consultations with careful follow-up by doctors. The Mobile Medical Units are active above all in the most remote areas, in close collaboration with the municipalities.
In Palestine, the situation is particularly worrying due to the lack of medical equipment, such as ventilators and oxygen, and the lack of masks, alcohol and disinfectants.
At the Holy Family Hospital of the Order of Malta, in Bethlehem, which has the only neonatal intensive care unit in the whole region, despite the difficult circumstances, 285 babies were born in March. Staff regularly contact Bedouins who live in isolated communities for telemedicine visits and pregnant women were able to leave their communities to give birth to their children at the hospital. In Syria, together with partner organizations, the Order's global relief agency, Malteser International, continues to run and strengthen healthcare facilities, hospitals and primary health care centers, and will intensify its activities by distributing more water and products for hygiene, and helping to improve sanitation in informal camps and settlements that are in poor condition. (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 4/4/2020)