By Linda Bordoni
The new coronavirus pandemic is global but challenges can be very different from country to country.
That’s why the Order of Malta, that runs medical, social and humanitarian projects across the world, has launched a project called “Doctor to Doctor”. The initiative aims to help countries enduring occupation, political unrest, widespread poverty or other situations exacerbating the effects of the pandemic, to address the crisis in the best possible way.
High on its agenda is how the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting conflict areas in some Middle Eastern countries where access to medical care and distribution of sanitary items is scarce. Like in Palestine where social distancing and isolation measures are problematic because of high population density and the scarcity of Intensive Care Units.
Marianna Balfour, Diplomatic Public Affairs and Press Officer at the Order of Malta, told Vatican Radio that so far workshops have been convened or are scheduled for medical professionals in Palestine, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and perhaps South Africa. During the online meetings, they have the opportunity to ask questions and receive specially-tailored advice from a pool of experts working in different fields of the Covid-19 frontline.
Explaining that the “Doctor to Doctor” project was launched in collaboration with the Diplomatic Department of the Order of Malta, Balfour said that basically it “puts together in an online meeting, scientific experts, doctors, virologists, immunologists from European countries that have been dealing with Covid, (starting from Italy, but also from Germany and Ireland so far), with Middle Eastern countries where there is a problem in population density, refugee camps and so forth.”
Opportunity to share information and best practices
Balfour said the project is proving extremely interesting because not only is it an opportunity to promote and to share the latest knowledge on the management of the Covid-19 crisis from a medical point of view, it’s also very interesting and constructive because it provides participants a forum in which to share and promote information regarding necessary behavioural changes to contain the virus.
So far, she continued, especially for those who participate from densely populated areas in the Middle East (like Gaza, Bethlehem, Jerusalem), who are struggling to support vast numbers of refugees (Jordan and Lebanon) or are dealing with the effects of conflict (Yemen), it’s been incredibly useful because it also provides extremely practical information: “what to say to people; how to encourage people to wash their hands 10 times a day; how to encourage people to use masks and to practice some form of social distancing even in extremely difficult places, where it’s very, very challenging to do so.”
She said the project has been so successful, health authorities and doctors in Palestine have asked for a third meeting, scheduled to be held later this week.
Tailored for specific needs
Balfour also explained that the project has come to life in collaboration with an English think tank called Forward Thinking that works to promote an inclusive Middle East peace process and facilitates political dialogue and understanding between the Arab/Muslim and Western worlds.
She said the organisation organises the logistics, setting up and moderating the meeting.
“It’s an online, very interactive discussion,” she concluded, stressing that “it’s not a conference, so people get to ask questions and the doctors answer: It’s very fitted for the specific country with its specific needs.”
Founded in Jerusalem in 1113, the Sovereign Order of Malta is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church. Today it is active in 120 countries, caring for people in need. It is especially involved in helping those living in war-torn areas or struck by natural disasters, in caring for refugees and distributing medicines and basic equipment for survival.