The issue: Over a billion of the world’s poor suffer from one or more neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) – illnesses such as leprosy, sleeping sickness and elephantiasis, that make millions of victims’ lives almost unbearably difficult. The resulting pain, poverty, social stigma and disabilities have a devastating impact on their remaining years but a low direct mortality rate (compared to diseases such as AIDS and malaria) means that funding and global attention often go elsewhere.

How we help: The Order of Malta works towards tackling these – often curable – diseases through large scale, established programmes for sufferers of NTDs in Africa, Asia and South America. We currently have projects tackling NTDs all over the world, including in:

The issue: While for some, pregnancy and childbirth has become a highly sophisticated, safe and professionalised experience, our experience on the ground indicates that this is far from the case for many Middle Eastern, African, Asian and South American countries where avoidable child and parental mortality remain tragically high. In fact, new-borns in developing economies are ten times more likely to die than in industrialised economies and maternal mortality is over a hundred times higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe.

How we help: The Order of Malta is widely recognised for our work in this field, with projects ranging from midwifery in Kenya to antenatal care in the Sahara.

The issue: At least one in every twenty-eight children in the US has a parent in prison. In the UK, two thirds of women prisoners leave dependent children behind when they go to jail. While there is increasing awareness of prisoners’ conditions and rehabilitation, there is relatively little focus on, or provision for, the children who are left behind as a result. Their parents simply disappear from their lives, leaving them vulnerable, confused, guilty, scared and often seriously stigmatised. It is as if these innocent children, known as ‘invisible victims’, receive a sentence of their own whilst their parents are in jail.

How we help: The Order of Malta works extensively with the families of prisoners; with twenty-four projects in the US alone.

The issue: The number of people over 60 is expected to triple globally by 2050. As the proportion of people of working age decreases, greater life expectancy and declining fertility mean that, across the world, the older generation will account for an ever larger proportion of society. Old age can be isolating and lonely – depression affects 15% of over 65s – an experience often exacerbated by reduced mobility and distressing health complications. In the twilight of their lives, the elderly should not only be remembered, but treated with kindness and respect; instead, society often treats them as little more than a financial and social burden.

How we help: Caring for the elderly is one of the most significant components of our work. We do so the world over, running care homes, meals on wheels, support centres and medical facilities in countries from the UK to Peru.

The issue: One in ten children in the world have to cope with a mental or physical disability and eighty per cent of disabled people live in developing countries. Over and above the pain and distress caused to the individual and their families, the disabled child may also be disowned, excluded from their community or consigned to inadequate children’s homes – only the very privileged few are able to access appropriate care and support.

How we help: The Order of Malta works with disabled children in many developed and developing countries. Our projects include holiday camps, helping people who were left disabled after Hurricane Katrina, and a clinic for Down’s Syndrome sufferers in the UK.

The issue: In 2005 it was estimated that one quarter of the world’s population lives without shelter or in unhealthy and unacceptable conditions, a great many of whom are minors. The problems that lead to homelessness pervade every part of society – problems such as family breakdown, natural and man-made disasters, urbanization and overcrowding, drug addiction and HIV/AIDS. In addition, homelessness accelerates social exclusion, so that those 100 million who are affected are often in a downward spiral of unemployment, marginalisation, poverty, drug problems and illness.

How we help: The Order of Malta works with the homeless in many different ways. In addition to the centre for favelas in Brazil and mobile nursing units in Russia and Hungary, our projects include Peru and France.

The issue: Over 27.5 million people across the world are displaced by armed conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations, a figure which increases by about 400,000 each year. Displaced people are found the world over. Those born into extreme poverty, abandoned in a war zone, or hit by a natural disaster are most affected. They find themselves homeless, without friends or family, without work or even a national identity. They fall between the cracks and women and children are vulnerable to trafficking. They are hard to reach, hard to identify and often forgotten.

How we help: The Order of Malta is actively involved with displaced people the world over; in particular, we provide shelter, sanitation and healthcare in Sri Lanka and return abandoned children to their families.

The issue: Marginalisation is what happens when a group of people is separated – or actively excluded – from the rest of society. From indigenous groups in South America and pygmies and albinos in Africa, to refugees, Roma people and untouchables (170 million in India), marginalised people are often regarded as an underclass – unable to access basic material needs, work opportunities, education, welfare or healthcare – their needs ignored or forgotten by the public.

How we help: The Order of Malta is heavily involved with marginalised people of many kinds in hundreds of locations. Projects in India, Vietnam and the Congo are outlined below.