The Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, Palestine, is a truly special place. Located just steps away from the birthplace of Christ, the Order of Malta-run maternity and neonatal critical care centre serves poor and at-risk women, infants and children throughout the region.
For the over 30 years since it became a specialized maternity unit, the area where the Hospital operates has been one of conflict and poverty, of refugee camps and remote desert villages. Notwithstanding the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, it continues to offer state-of-the-art neonatal care and support to families and it is where about 90% of all Bethlehem’s infants are born.
Michele Burke Bowe, Ambassador for the Order of Malta to Palestine and member of the Board of Directors of the Hospital, says that as Christmas approaches in this truly special town that is Bethlehem, “We just open our arms and then afterwards we figure out how we’re going to pay, hoping that our generous donors will stand up and help us meet these increased needs of this post-pandemic time, which has deep roots in Bethlehem.”
She explains that the town, which is economically completely dependent on pilgrimages and tourism, was emptied of all visitors for the duration of the emergency.
“So for two years 90% of the workforce was left without salaries. They sold their cars, they sold their household goods. It’s going to take a generation for them to be able to recover from that,” she adds.
One devastating reality, the Ambassador notes, is that many women were arriving at the hospital to deliver their babies without having eaten for one or two days. Some of them hadn’t eaten because they had saved their food for their already-born children, and some just didn’t have any food at all, “and this had a devastating effect on the health of the babies.”