Rome-based Catholic Lay Religious Order Supporting Fight against COVID-19 in Africa

Fr. Gérard Lagleder and some of his staff in an Order of Malta clinic in Mandeni, South Africa.
Credit: Vatican News

The Order of Malta, a Rome-based Catholic lay Religious Order that is active in some 120 countries, is supporting efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Africa where the centuries old institution is present in over 30 nations.

Existing to care “for people in need through its medical, social and humanitarian works,” the support from the 907-year-old Catholic institution is happening against the backdrop of projections by scientists that at least 450,000 Africans could contract the highly contagious COVID-19 by the second week of May.

In South Africa where at least 1,749 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, the highest in Africa, the Order of Malta has put in place measures to ensure that the vulnerable people under its health care facilities in the eastern province of Kwazulu Natal are protected from contracting the deadly virus.

“We are running the largest in-patient hospice in the whole of South Africa. The hospice is full of immuno-compromised and frail geriatric patients,” the founder and president of the Order of Malta’s care facility in Mandeni, Kwazulu Natal, Fr. Gérard Lagleder told Vatican News in an interview April 6.

Besides the hospice, the care facility known as Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard also runs clinics, an orphanage, as well as healthcare services for outpatients in rural areas. According to Fr. Lagleder, 80 percent of the people served by the care facility live under the poverty line.

The Benedictine Cleric also said that the healthcare facility has “close to 700 patients on Aids treatment in a very large treatment programme.”

Responding to the government restrictions through the 21-day nationwide lockdown, the facility ensured that all patients receive their respective medications for two months in advance “so they don't have to come here. And they are safe so far,” Fr. Lagleder confirmed.

The patients have the opportunity to continue with their respective prescriptions, thus reducing the chances of compromised immune systems, something that would make them vulnerable to COVID-19.  The minimal movement to and from the hospital for medication also reduces possible contagions. 

The German priest revealed that the same strategy was used for the Malnutrition Clinic where “baby food was distributed to those in need for the whole of the lockdown period.”

“The same was done for the Order’s Home Care Programme, leaving health care workers free to attend to emergencies and strengthen the ranks of the in-patient hospice personnel,” Fr. Lagleder added.

The cleric expressed gratitude to the staff of the Brotherhood facility saying, “I am so happy about our personnel! They have been told that if they stay at home, they can help prevent infection spreading but they are all true to their mission as health-care workers and are faithfully coming to look after their patients and the children.”

In the East African nation of Uganda, the Order of Malta’s worldwide relief agency, Malteser International (MI) “is working on developing a behavior change communication plan focusing on hygiene and sanitation targeted at refugee populations and host communities around Rhino Camp Settlement.”

The initiative, the agency has revealed, will also include the distribution of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) like hand sanitizers.

The relief agency has also secured funding for the establishment of the first isolation ward in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.

“The ward will be located inside the Lubaga Hospital, run by a Catholic partner organization,” the agency has reported on its website and added, “Medical personnel and staff have already received training as part of the programme to establish national emergency services and improve emergency care in hospitals including triage.”

According to the agency, the programme included an exchange with Germany that drew on the expertise of the Malteser healthcare workers in Germany. The agency’s health experts in Africa will now be trained “in dealing with epidemics.”

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where at least 161 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 18 deaths reported, an isolation ward used during the Ebola response is now being used by Malteser International for COVID-19 response.

In South Sudan, the latest African country to confirm COVID-19 cases, the Order of Malta is supporting creative messages such as street theatre shows and radio spots featuring coronavirus songs to inform the public in the capital Juba, about the disease.

To enhance its response to COVID-19 in the 120 countries where it is active, the Catholic lay Religious Order has committed itself to training its staff “in order to continue ensuring aid assistance in safety.”

The Order has also scaled up programmes bringing relief to the needy and vulnerable “to respond to the tremendous strain on the national health systems of the countries hit by the pandemic.”

The nine-century old Catholic Lay Religious Order “is thoroughly engaged in supporting hospital, medical centers, ambulance services and at the same time is continuing wherever possible its activities in support of the elderly and disabled people who are particularly at risk at this moment, and many of whom are suffering isolation, and the homeless and people in need particularly under strain in this moment in time.”


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]