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Activities of the Order of Malta

The Order follows its historic rule of "obsequium pauperum" for the needy and sick and today works in more than 110 countries, giving medical and social help, through disaster relief in the case of armed conflicts or natural catastrophes, helping young people and providing first aid training. In carrying out these activities, it depends on the involvement of its 10,000 members, as well as approximately 80,000 trained volunteers and 11,000 employees, most of whom are medical personnel.
The Order's national organisations (including its Grand Priories, National Associations, relief organisations and foundations) in the countries where they are present, are responsible for carrying out the Order's activities. The permanent institutions - such as hospitals, hospices and old peoples' homes - are either managed directly by the Priories or Associations, or by subordinate bodies.


The Relief Services / Ambulance Corps

Most of the volunteers work as part of the Order's relief organisations or ambulance corps. They perform first aid, disaster relief and social services. In addition to this, extensive youth work is being carried out in the relief organisations and 30 countries have set up similar organisations. Since the foundation of the ambulance corps in Ireland more than 60 years ago (1938), the operation of relief services has developed into one of the Order's most important activities. The foundation and development of relief services has also been very successful in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of the Iron Curtain. With these services, the Order has been able to expand its functions considerably, and involve a great number of people in helping to carry out its mission. Thus, Christian social commitment is carried out in an organised way, as part of a community with social responsibility. The vitality and appeal of the Order's mission is demonstrated in a new way, especially in the relief services.


Hospitals, Medical Centres and Medical Programmes

Most of the Order's hospitals are situated in Europe, especially in Germany, France, Belgium, England and Italy, the majority being general hospitals. The Order's hospital in Rome is specialised in neurological treatment and rehabilitation. The hospitals in England and Belgium, as well as some in Germany, have special units for the treatment of the terminally ill, with appropriate palliative specialists. Similar special units work in Argentina, Italy, the USA, South Africa and Australia. Care for the terminally ill in hospitals, hospices and at home has developed during recent years into one of the fundamental aims of the Order's activity. The combination of full care and specially trained volunteers, in an environment which operates according to Catholic ethics, is an important part of the Order's medicine.

In addition to the medical centres and the hospitals it runs in France, the French Association runs hospitals and dispensaries in Benin, Togo and Senegal. As a joint activity of the whole Order a maternity hospital is run in Bethlehem, Palestine, under the operational responsibilities of the French Association. Since 1990, more than 25,000 babies have been born there. In Senegal and Cambodia the Order runs special hospitals for leprosy sufferers.

For a long time leprosy relief has been one of the main aims of the Order's work in the Third World. With its special organisation, CIOMAL (Comite International de l'Ordre de Malte), based in Geneva and founded specifically for this purpose, the Order takes care of the national leprosy programme in Cambodia and assists in leprosy relief in other countries, especially in Brazil. Recently CIOMAL extended its programmes further, to include devoting its care also to the treatment of pregnant women with HIV, in order to prevent infection between mother and child. Initial programmes have been started in Mexico and Senegal.

The Order also operates many medical centres around the world. In Italy these are specialised institutions for the care of diabetics. There is a similar institution in Prague, in the Czech Republic, for children. Most of the Order's dispensaries are in Lebanon and El Salvador. The institutions, which were founded during the civil wars in these countries, are now an important part of their national health systems. There are medical centres in Poland, Hungary, the USA, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Peru and South Africa, too. Furthermore, in developing countries, many hospitals, medical centres and dispensaries are supported - and at times directed - by the Order. In various areas in Africa, which have been affected by armed conflicts, such institutions have been taken over for a short time, rehabilitated or advised. In the district of the Great Lakes, as well as in Kerala, India, the Order supports the setting up of basic public health services.

The French Association supports medical institutions in a great number of countries in West Africa and Madagascar. An important contribution is the system for the collection and sorting of medicines, which was set up by the Order in France, and which is approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
On many occasions, the Order, through the German relief service, has taken over the medical care of UN peace missions (Central America, Kuwait, East Timor, Balkans).


Institutions for Disabled People and Disabled Relief Service.

In France the Order maintains five highly specialised Medical Centres for the seriously disabled. There are also Centres for the disabled in Hungary, Ecuador and Lebanon. In addition, the Order carries out many other activities for disabled people, including running yearly pilgrimages to Lourdes and to other pilgrimage sites, organising holiday camps for disabled youngsters and transport services for the sick, especially in Germany and Scotland.


Institutions and Relief for Old People

Of increasing significance are the activities of relief for the elderly. The Order directs numerous specialised centres for old people in England, Germany, Spain, Austria, the USA, Chile and Mexico. In various countries there is a variety of services to make life at home easier for old people. This includes meals on wheels, transport services, visiting services, shopping help and the operation of emergency call systems.


Relief for Children and Adolescents

In Brazil, Mexico and Chile, the Order devotes itself to a variety of programmes of care for children who live in favellas. In Sao Paolo, for many years the Order has run a model institution with extensive medical, social and educational help, as well as special programmes for the training of single mothers. Our Association in Mexico runs a school with boarding facilities. In Porto, Portugal, there is a home for young girls who have social difficulties. As well as operating normal Kindergärten (Germany, South Africa), programmes for adolescents with social problems are also being set up in Germany.

Another important area is the youth work in the Order's relief services, which has founded special youth groups in which children and adolescents are being taught First Aid, according to their age, and are being trained to practise social responsibility.


Homeless People and Drug Addicts

The Order runs institutions for the homeless in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, Italy and the USA.
In Germany and Portugal the Order is involved with drug addicts, i.e. the Association in Portugal runs a centre for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.


Humanitarian Emergency Relief

Humanitarian relief for the victims of natural disaster or armed conflicts is one of the Order's traditional tasks, taken up again in the mid 19th century and also carried out during the 1st and 2nd World Wars. In the second half of the last century these commitments increased. Included among the main relief actions were: the relief for refugees during the Hungarian crisis in 1956; setting up and running a hospital during the Vietnam war; relief service in Thailand for many years; medical assistance during the civil war in Lebanon and El Salvador; refugee relief during the Kurd crisis; refugee relief in the Great Lakes district of Africa; various extensive actions during the Balkan crisis (1999); earthquake relief in Friuli, Italy, in the late 1970s, in Armenia in 1989, in Italy in 1997, in Columbia and Turkey in 1999, in El Salvador in 2000, in India in 2001; repeated flood and hurricane catastrophe relief in the Ukraine, Hungary and Romania, and in Honduras in 1998, in Poland in 1999 and in Mozambique in 2000 and 2001.

To increase the Order's availability with regard to disaster relief, several European Priories and Associations worked together to establish ECOM (the Emergency Corps of the Order of Malta) in which each Order's entity co-ordinates and carries out relief actions under a centralised direction, according to their main objectives.

The Order's neutrality and its impartial and non-political nature make relief actions possible in situations that are difficult for other organisations to access. In this respect, the Order's diplomatic representatives give intrinsic support in the countries concerned.

Where it is sensible and possible, the Order also carries out reconstruction and rehabilitation relief work following the acute phase of relief work. In the Balkans, these activities are extensive and run in close co-operation with the UNHCR. Similar activities are being carried out in the district of the Great Lakes in Africa, in Mozambique, Honduras, El Salvador and India.



One of the Order's traditional tasks is to help refugees and those seeking asylum - the Order currently runs long-term institutions and programmes in Germany and Thailand. Again and again, the Order provides support for short-term activities, depending on the predicament.


The Financing of the Order's Activities

Due to the exceptional diversity and variability, depending on each country, region and activity, the question of financing the Order's activities is difficult to answer fully and clearly.

Only in Italy and Austria do the Order's long-standing properties contribute towards the financing of the administrative expenses. Otherwise the Order - as opposed to manifold speculations - does not have noteworthy property apart from possession of its own medical and social institutions. Fund raising in the broadest sense is therefore a crucial activity for building up and assuring the Order's activities.

Especially in Western and Southern Europe, many medical and social institutions and programmes are included in, and are substantially maintained by, the national health and social systems. Donations from members or outsiders also contribute to the financing of many programmes, sometimes decisively. The activities in developing countries are financed by the Order's Grand Priories and National Associations like in Germany, France and the USA, by contributions from the EU or the UN, contributions from national governments, private donations and donations from foundations. Similar procedures apply to international emergency relief: in France and Germany especially, hundreds of thousands of private donors contribute to financing. Whereas the co-financing of government and non-government authorities, as well as large foundations, is very often bound to very precisely defined and restricted conditions and can therefore only be used for purposes which are already established, the private donations from members and other private persons allow greater flexibility for the Order's entities to react quickly and effectively to new and changing needs.

All the Order's associations, work, foundations, hospitals, dispensaries, etc. are subject to a regular external audit, so that the orderliness of the financial administration is controlled by expert professionals, according to their national law and practice. In addition to these local controls, all the entities of the Order are also submitted to controls by the Order's Board of Auditors.