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Order of Malta Australia

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Mideast: Bethlehem, children born in the desert and snow


Article on ANSAmed

Since 1990 at Hospital of the Holy Family or helped by its doctors

BETHLEHEM, DECEMBER 27 – Mariam was born in Bethlehem just a few days before Christmas while the city was hit by an unprecedented snow storm which lent it an image similar to the most classic Nativity scene. Like Mariam, 60,000 children have been born at the Hospital of the Holy Family in Bethlehem since February 1990, when the Sovereign Military Order of Malta took charge, renovating it and managing it after a five-year closure.

Other children are not born under the snow in Bethlehem but in the desert of the West Bank, just a few kilometres away. They are also helped by doctors from the Holy Family’s mobile unit with scheduled appointments four times a week, always at the same locations which Bedouins living in the desert recognize.

Their women are treated by medical staff from the hospital working from a neonatal mobile clinic which has on board a gynecologist, an obstetrician and a paediatrician to provide assistance to patients living in villages – often without drinking water and electricity – in the Judean desert.

However, the majority of children are born at the hospital created inside a beautiful ancient palace built from white stones which has become a key point of reference in the district of Bethlehem, in the surrounding villages and some areas of the Hebron district. A ray of light in a situation which is often difficult and dramatic, offering women of any nationality or religion in the West Bank the only chance they have of giving birth to their children under adequate healthcare conditions.

Today the structure can accommodate 62 patients with a medical staff of 140 including general practitioners and specialized doctors, paramedics, nurses and administrative personnel. Operating rooms will soon be renovated.

The hospital also has a programme to help mothers care for their children, including assistance during pregnancy in a country without a public healthcare system. The hospital has a department of gynecology and obstetrics, a neonatology department and a general internal medicine unit as well as a day hospital.

It also has a neonatal intensive care department with 18 units, providing the same level of care as Western hospitals.

Ever since the end of the 19th century, the hospital has provided medical, surgical and obstetrics services to the population of Bethlehem until it was forced to close in 1985. In spite of the difficult geo-political context with the yet-unsolved Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the Order of Malta was able to re-open one of the few stable hospitals in a very fragile and complex scenario.

Founded in Jerusalem in 1048, the Order mainly operates in social and medical assistance and humanitarian aid in over 120 countries. Together with its 13,500 members, 80,000 volunteers, helped by over 25,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics work for the Order which manages hospitals, medical institutions, day care centers, institutes for the elderly, the disabled, terminal patients and volunteer corps.

The two daughters (Lordina and Natasha) of Vera Baboun, the first woman to be elected mayor of Bethlehem were born at the hospital of this city so rich in history and symbols. The same hospital where Mariam was born under the snow of Bethlehem’s Nativity.

The Australian Association

The Australian Association, formed in 1974, currently has in excess of 300 members and aspirant members across every State and Territory of Australia. We also have ongoing and strong links with the Order’s National Associations throughout the Asia Pacific Region including in Singapore and the Philippines and with members of the Order in New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR, Thailand and Korea. The Order of Malta is committed to serving Our Lords the Poor and Sick worldwide and has done so for over 900 years. This website shares with you the history, mission and current activities of the Order of Malta in Australia, and provides links to the work of the Order world-wide.