St John of Jerusalem Eye HospitalThe Order generally only officially supports one Charity, which is the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, based in Jerusalem. This hospital concerns itself mainly with the eyesight of patients and the support of the Knights Templar contributes to the salaries of the nursing staff and doctors. This hospital, because of its situation in the Middle East, continues to face many demands and problems. We do of course also support many local charities in line with other Orders in Warwickshire.

St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital

The main hospital in East Jerusalem has been operating for over 130 years. The hospital is the main provider of eye care for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and sees many of the most complex eye cases from across the oPt (occupied Palestine territories), which are referred from medical centres across the West Bank and Gaza. As it is the only charitable provider of eye care, the importance of the hospital for the region cannot be overstated.

St John Eye Hospital has a large outpatients department, specialist eye units, operating theatres and 24 hour eye emergency services

The hospital is internationally recognised as operating to the highest standards. St John Eye Hospital recently became the first Palestinian hospital to be awarded the three-year Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation. JCI is a US-based organisation that has established patient safety and quality service standards for health facilities worldwide.

With high rates of poverty in the region, it is essential that services are available to all. Patients are treated regardless of their ethnicity, religion or ability to pay.

Every specialty covered

From its outset, St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group (SJEHG) was exclusively served by Western expatriates.. This continued until the turn of the twentieth century, when the Nursing School and the Doctors Medical Residency Programme for Palestinians were introduced at St John. With the political unrest and changes in policy in many of the Western eye institutes, it became increasingly difficult for expatriates to come over for prolonged periods of time. Some came for one to three weeks providing a vital, if staggered, specialist ophthalmic service. In line with the mission and vision of St John to provide a sustainable service of excellence to the people we serve by building capacity locally, over the past 10 years Palestinian ophthalmologists have been trained and empowered to fulfill this role. St John can now boast of home grown specialists in every field of ophthalmology, except complex oncology (one of the few services which is readily available in the area).

The hospital has two of the only paediatric specialists in the oPt. They provide a critical service to some of the 2 million children (making up 47% of the Palestinian population). They also have the only Palestinian glaucoma specialist, whose clinics are often filled with infants and children. Diabetes is another scourge for Palestinians, affecting close to 20% of the population. The two retinal surgeons and two medical retina specialists are kept busy dealing with this growing number of patients, many of whom need complex retinal surgery to salvage what little vision they have left. We also have a uveitis specialist, who takes care of inflammatory eye disease, especially Behçet’s Disease. Keratoconus (where the cornea is conical rather than spherical) is a common problem among Palestinians, accounting for 80% of those patients who needed corneal transplants in 2013. Our two corneal specialists competently manage these patients. The social stigma of ‘being different’ can be devastating to families. The oculoplastic specialist performs reconstructive surgery amongst other types, and is changing lives by providing this much needed service to our patients.

Research relaunched

St John’s new genetic research project was established in February 2016. The project will involve the training of St John staff  in research techniques and the establishment of a research laboratory. Dr Yahya Sweiti is the staff member who will lead on the research and he has been undertaking a Fellowship in Ophthalmic Genetics and  Retinal Diseases at the Hadassah Medical Center in Israel since early 2015, under our Joint Teaching Programme. This has been an excellent opportunity for St John and Hadassah to demonstrate the benefits of mutual cooperation.

A genetic laboratory will be established and equipped at St John, in cooperation with HMC, by the end of 2017. The  laboratory will perform DNA extraction and basic genetic screening that will be supervised by Dr Sweiti. In time, Dr Sweiti will have the ability to publish his own research, focused on the Palestinian population (an isolated group of individuals very seldom studied in  ophthalmic medicine) in international journals, which will have a global impact on the medicinal field.

The most mportant beneficiaries of this project will be Palestinian patients with genetic eye diseases. The project’s main aim is to provide sustainable treatment and medical solutions for those people who have had no other option in the past. This will have a significant long-term impact by preventing the inherited disease from developing in the next generation through identifying and treating the genes responsible for hereditary molecular diseases in the Palestinian population.