GEOFFREY MEEK explains how an eye hospital in Jerusalem takes its inspiration from the old Hospitallers of St John.
TO ACHIEVE a centenary is always a great accomplishment — in the case of the St John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, Centenary Year 1982, is something not far short of a miracle.
The Hospital is one of the two charitable foundation of the Venerable Order of St John of which Her Majesty the Queen is Sovereign Head. The Order has
remained loyal to its humanitarian ideals during its 1400 years of existence. Its other foundation is the rather better known in this country, St John Ambulance, formed in 1877 and synonymous with first aid; its teaching, training and practical
application through its voluntary Brigade members numbering some 80,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Hospital in Jerusalem, having survived two wars, three moves, incessant financial crises and at present a geographical location second to none in terms of instability, is now actually busier than ever. During last year admissions, operations and the number of out-patients were all up by 12 per cent.
Situated in East Jerusalem on the West Bank of the Jordan this hospital still maintains its basic philosophy of being able to treat anybody with an ophthalmic condition regardless of creed or colour.
The Order established its first eye hospital on the Bethlehem Road in 1882. Over the years, however, and more particularly over the past 20 years, the Hospital has been maintained on a shoestrirr 'fidget. It faces its centenary year rather like a patient with kidney failure, living from one year to the next never knowing whether it is condemned to half life on a dialysis machine or whether a transplant and full life are just around the corner.
Prior to 1974, treatment was free. But with the ravages of inflation and so arising maintenance costs the Order was reluctantly forced to introduce minimal treatment charges for those patients who could afford to pay something. However, children under 12 and the very poor are still treated free. Later, during the dark tenuous days of 1978 when closure and redundancy notices threatened this period also marked the end of predominantly Western support for the hospital.
Money had to come from the Arab world to help its own people who have always been the hospital's main benificiaries. Appeals were made and the response though generous, was not enough to inspire complacency. 1982 is make or break year for the hospital but with a great sense of gratitude, generate an income of some £350,000 per annum. This leaves indeed relief. The Order heard that H.H. Shaikh Zayer bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the U.A.E. and Ruler of Abu Dhabi had pledged a large amount in the form of a trust in Amman, Jordan which would leave £370,000 per annum still to find as at this moment the hospital is running on a budget of some £720,000 a year.
However, having made this bleak statement the Order is still hugely optimistic and, to prove its faith in-humanity, is pressing vigorously ahead with its £5m endowment appeal fund launched at the Mansion House in October last year.
Plans for centenary celebrations will begin in Jerusalem in October starting with an Order Service in St George's Cathedral. On October 4, special tours have been arranged to support the hospital and see the Holy Land on this crucially important occasion. Each booking made will result in a donation for the hospital. Further details about these tours is readily available.
One of the most recent inovations of the hospital is the "Outreach" project, first mooted in 1980 and now working on the West Bank.
Eye disease is still rife in the Middle East and, despite the constant tension of everyday life in West Bank Jerusalem, over 3,800 patients were treated last year and nearly 5,000 operations were performed in the hospital, the staff of which numbers about 100, including 7 doctors from various countries and 50 nursing staff. The Chief surgeon, Dr Geofrey Bislay, is warden of the hospital and the matron is Mrs Ruth Parks. Both are British. The principal of the hospital is known as the Hospitaller. He is Sir Stephen Miller, an eminent British eye specialist, who was the Queen's oculist.
The hospital has 82 beds, an extensive outpatient department two theatres, an ophthalmic nurse training school and an eye bank. It provides employment for more than 100 local people and first class ophthalmic treatment for anybody who needs it. The staff, nurses, physicians and surgeons, are recruited from within the ranks of the American Society of the Order and the Priories in the Commonwealth as well as from the British health service.
Salaries are paid by the Order of St John, not by the Israeli health services, or by the World relief organisations which operate in the occupied territories. The Order, in collaboration with the Depai tment of Preventive Ophthalmology, London is actively involved in promoting research projects for control and prevention of blindness caused by trachoma — the greatest single cause of blindness in the world, which affects 400 hundred million people.
The St John Ophthalmic Hospital is far more than just a centre of healing. It is a place
where compassion, understanding and co-operation are fostered amongst all peoples. It is tru/y a place of goodwill."
These words, written by a pilgrim to the Holy Land in the 12th century, refer to the original hospital of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem.
"Over against the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the opposite side of the way towards the South, is a beautiful church built in honour of John the Baptist, annexed to which is a hospital, wherein in various rooms is collected together an enormous multitude of sick people. Both men and women are tended and restored to health daily at very great expense".
Things haven't changed much, except the expense is even greater and the need is greater than ever before. The Order of St John must turn for help to all who care about their fellow men.
* The headquarters of the Order of St John are at: 1 Grosvenor Crescent, London SWI.