Growing the Order’s Mission in Timor-Leste
The Order of Malta Medical Clinic in Timor-Leste has introduced regular nutrition classes, to assist in its missions to improve maternal and infant health and wellbeing.
The people of Timor-Leste continue to suffer the highest malnutrition rate in South-East Asia. Malnutrition is the single greatest contributor to premature death and disability as it weakens the immune system and can lead to a heightened risk of illness and disease.
The effects of chronic malnutrition are irreversible if it left untreated by the time a child reaches three years of age. An estimated 50 percent of children in Timor-Leste suffer from a form of malnutrition called stunting. A recent report notes that Timorese are on average the world’s shortest people: with adult women reaching an average height of 4 feet 11½ inches.
Whilst poverty does impact nutrition, education is a key factor. The classes, led by the clinic’s staff, are a low cost but high benefit initiative, with a focus on ‘prevention rather than cure’.
However, whilst improved diet will benefit the attendees and their families, other environmental factors cannot be ignored.
“Unfortunately, medical services and adequate diet are only parts of the equation which enhances people’s capacity to flourish and live a full life” explains Order of Malta member and Clinic Manager, Alastair Furnival. “Other development factors, including availability of clean water and hygienic waste facilities, are holding back poorer Timorese: especially those outside the capital Dili. Integrated development strategies are needed to address the interlaced problems which lead to poor health outcomes in Timor-Leste”.
The next step in the Order’s mission in Timor-Leste is to bring together healthcare, nutrition and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) into a single program.
The Clinic team in Dili recently hosted a representative from the Order’s International Relief Agency, Malteser International, to provide advice on how to develop an integrated development plan.
Malteser International has a wealth of experience working on the frontline helping communities recover from disasters, and longer-term initiatives to relieve suffering among the sick and the poor. This includes delivering programs in the remotest corners of the developing world.
The first objective identified from the visit was to identify a single underserved district on the outskirts of Dili, requiring the full mix of health, nutrition, and WASH support to focus efforts. Potential locations have already been identified within the current weekly clinic outreach schedule.
The second goal is to partner with a local Timorese NGO, to ensure that the project is not only achievable but sustainable. This will ensure that when the project is mature, the Order can pass on its continued management to a local partner and move on to new districts with unmet need.
“This initiative would be a natural extension of the capabilities, relationships and goodwill the Order has established since it first set foot in Timor-Leste in” explains Alastair. “But as always, it will require ongoing financial support to make it a reality.”
Donations to the Timor-Leste Medical Clinic of $2 and more are tax deductible for Australian taxpayers.