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Just what the doctor ordered

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In Timor-Leste the Order of Malta is a key driver in healthcare

Despite being one of our closest neighbours, Timor-Leste is struggling to overcome the worst health standards and life expectancy in the Asia-Pacific region.

The South-East Asian nation struggling with diseases and conditions that have been all but eradicated from Australia, less than 700 kilometers away.

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Even at the start of life, the odds are stacked against Timorese with a live birth mortality rate more than a thousand times greater than Australia, at 42.3 live births per thousand.

For those that do survive childbirth in a new nation that is struggling with basic infrastructure, just one-in-three mothers and newborns receive postnatal care, something that is a universal right here at home.

To combat infant malnutrition and provide adequate primary care, the Order of Malta Australia has created and provides funding for the Ordem de Malta Jape a Lem Memorial Clinic in the Comoro District of Dili.

Dr Haunana Caldas, standing at far left, has returned to Timor-Leste to provide basic - and essential - healthcare for her countrymen and women. Photo: Nicole Chehine
Dr Haunana Caldas, standing at far left, has returned to Timor-Leste to provide basic – and essential – healthcare for her countrymen and women. Photo: Nicole Chehine

The Clinic sees more than 600 patients per month on the premises, with a mobile clinic also visiting more than 400 Timorese unable to travel to the capital, treating illnesses ranging from viral infection and tuberculosis to malnutrition in children and pregnant women.

Senior Physician at the clinic, Dr Haunara Caldas, is a Timorese national trained in Portugal who has returned to the fledgling nation to provide universal healthcare similar to that provided in Australia.

“The mission of the Order of Malta is to provide free health care for the Timorese,” Dr Caldas said.

In a country with no social safety net, the Catholic church is the main provider of health, education and social services.

The clinic was founded in 2017, but has now spread into outlying villages as well.

Bishop Richard Umbers stands beside the Lem Memorial Clinic’s ambulance in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili. The ambulance has been provided by the Order of Malta in Australia. Photo: Nicole Chehine
Bishop Richard Umbers stands beside the Lem Memorial Clinic’s ambulance in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili. The ambulance has been provided by the Order of Malta in Australia. Photo: Nicole Chehine

“It would not be possible without the help of the Order of Malta. We started with a single location, now the mobile clinic has eight locations outside of Dili,” the doctor said. Sydney Bishop Richard Umbers, who visited the nation in January, was encouraged by a trip to see the work being carried out by the Order for people who need it most.

“It’s quite inspiring, I think, to see the work of so many people who work quietly away in the Catholic Church,” he said, “with the University of Notre Dame and the Order of Malta in Australia doing work that really changes people’s lives,” Bishop Richard said.

Bishop Richard said he believes that the Church has a duty to help those in need in nations around the world who do not have access to basic health care.

“When Pope Francis speaks about such issues he has in mind countries like Timor-Leste and a good part of the world where there are so many difficulties and we take for granted we have so many things in Australia with Medicare, with government intervention that it’s easy for us to forget how important a role the church is in a very practical way,” Bishop Richard said.

Worldwide the Order of Malta employs more than 52,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics operating in more than 120 countries providing healthcare and related services to those who would otherwise have little or no acess to them.

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