Red Cross adopts Israeli cholera prevention program

The student team who devised the cholera prevention program. L to R: Gulnoza Usmanova, Solomon Nzioka, Ana-Mari Barragan, Philip Blumenfeld, Solomon Beza, Kingsley Odiete and Ajay Phatak.A highly successful cholera prevention program developed by students at an Israeli university has been adopted by the Red Cross in Kenya for widespread use.

The program, created by students from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was first employed in displaced persons camps by the Red Cross, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, during the recent political crisis in Kenya. It was found to be highly effective in prevention and management of the disease.

As a result, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC), have decided to implement the program beyond the camps.

Cholera, an acute diarrheal illness caused by a bacterial infection in the intestine, is a preventable disease. Though rare in the west, the disease remains common in the developing world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there were about 180,000 cholera cases in 2007, and that it accounts for 65 percent of deaths in cases of diarrheal diseases in children under five years old in developing countries.

Annual cholera outbreaks

In Kenya, there are cholera outbreaks every year, mostly as a result of torrential rains with accompanying floods that contaminate already inadequate water supplies. This, coupled with poor sanitation in many areas, heightens the risk of the disease.

The students who designed the cholera prevention program are medical and public health practitioners from Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Colombia, Uzbekistan, India and the US, who came to study in Israel on an intensive one-year masters degree in public health at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

They discovered that the disease could be prevented and fatalities avoided if prevention efforts were integrated into routine health care, and outbreaks reported quickly in accordance with WHO requirements.

In Kenya, however, according to Kenyan student team leader, Solomon Nzioka, officials often deny initial cholera outbreaks and underestimate the number of cases in an attempt to prevent damage to the tourist industry.

“When people continue to die and the outbreak continues to spread, then officials undertake late ‘fire-fighting’ measures to combat the outbreak,” says Nzioka. “Afterwards, the officials forget what occurred and eventually wait for the next report of cholera. Due to the lack of a comprehensive control program, such a pattern repeats itself time after time.”

Part of the problem is that the Kenyan government relies heavily on international NGOs to provide health treatment, water and sanitation facilities. Since the late 1990s many of these NGOs have begun to focus solely on the problems of HIV, leaving diseases like cholera neglected.

Safe sources of drinking water

The students devised a program to increase safe drinking water sources; promote awareness in the community about cholera prevention; improve surveillance and reporting of cholera cases; build a centralized network for monitoring and immediate appropriate action; mobilize rapid response teams to areas with suspected cholera cases; improve management of patients; prevent the spread of the disease; and and conduct post-epidemic investigation and education.

A control program was first used in Kenya’s Bungoma district, and it is currently being considered by the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation pending funding.

If funding is secured, the students expect that in three years’ time, the program will increase access to safe drinking water from 47 to 80 percent, enhance preparedness for cholera epidemics, upgrade early-response systems, and prevent spread of cholera in the district through the strengthening of partnerships between community and government levels.

The students hope that their program, which was developed within the framework of the control of communicable diseases course, will also be adopted in other countries, such as Nigeria and Ethiopia, where cholera is rife.

Project supervisor, Prof. Mark Spigelman says the team is planning to submit their proposal to the WHO to be considered for implementation worldwide.

Lending a hand to Brand Israel

A new Israeli foreign ministry promotion to rebrand Israel now launched in Toronto, could be the start of a larger worldwide campaign. Creating buzz is vital.After 60 years of Diaspora Jews complaining that Israel’s hasbara efforts fall flat, there is finally reason for Jews worldwide to believe that the Foreign Ministry is beginning to get it. September marks the beginning of an ambitious new pilot program, being run by the consul-general in Toronto, Amir Gissin, to “rebrand” Israel.

Starting with print ads that will be featured prominently in bus shelters and billboards across the city, and continuing with radio and editorial content, Torontonians can expect to see Israel being portrayed as an innovative leader in technology that brings real benefits to their own lives. One ad, for example, depicts an Indian mother and daughter smiling under the words “Coronary stent. Lifesaver.” At the bottom is a new iconic logo, “Innovation Israel,” and the tag line “Touching lives.” The message to the growing Indian community in Toronto couldn’t be clearer.

Notably, one type of message that will be conspicuous by its absence is any type of explanation or defense of Israel’s actions in regard to its politics. “Explaining why we are right is not enough,” says Gissin. “Our goal is to make Israel relevant and attractive to Canadians and to refocus attention away from the conflict.”

In this Gissin is entirely correct. There is plenty of attention given to the Israeli-Arab conflict in the media already, and plenty of opportunities for pundits and diplomats to debate Israeli policies in front of audiences who listen. The conflict, after all, is not going away soon. The real challenge lies with the growing population of the Diaspora for whom Israel is not relevant and who tune out much of the news regarding the conflict as being hopelessly confusing and morally muddled.

These are people whose very indifference or inattentiveness make them susceptible to being swayed by charged anti-Israel labels that are thrown around by our adversaries, such as the word “apartheid.” With campuses around the world hosting “Israel Apartheid Week” on an annual basis and ex-presidents of the United States using the word in a book title, the need to have an ongoing campaign that will implant positive emotional associations to Israel has become crucial.

But will the Israeli pilot program in Toronto work? And will it be relevant to the rest of the Diaspora? Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with more than 200 languages spoken and with almost half the population belonging to a minority. There are, for example, 470,000 Chinese living there, many of them having little or no preconceptions about Israel. There are, as well, more than half a million Italians. That makes Toronto a very attractive laboratory to experiment in.

And it will be a real experiment, with a local company measuring the effects of the campaign with ongoing surveys to measure any progress. (These surveys will be carefully constructed so that respondents are unaware of who has sponsored them and will strenuously avoid politics.) Ads and editorials that are deemed successful by the consulate will, in later years, find their way to other cities around the globe.

There are good reasons for optimism. Gissin and the other people and companies involved in running the campaign are well versed in the local nuances and are aware of the difficulties involved in running a branding campaign that is short on budget. (Most of the advertising budget for the pilot program is being provided by local Jewish philanthropists). The ads are professional and appealing.

But the overwhelming consensus of marketing professionals is that no rebranding campaign can work without grass-roots involvement. Without buzz being generated by word of mouth, without the target audience discussing Israel among themselves, the campaign is likely to fail and the experiment will then not be repeated globally.

It is far too early to tell if the Foreign Ministry’s campaign will generate such buzz on its own. But one lesson from the pilot program can already be taken by all supporters of Israel in the Diaspora and that is that even when the ministry does everything right, it can’t really do it without local support. Diaspora Zionists must get involved. We must help create the buzz that others will perpetuate.

Even without a formal “rebranding Israel” program, we all have a role to play to help Israel’s image. It can be as simple as e-mailing a news story about a recent Israeli invention to a colleague, hanging a picture of beautiful Israeli art on our walls or helping our cities and towns twin with an Israeli town. The government is, belatedly, doing its part. We must lend it a hand.

Reprinted by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

ISRAEL 15 Vision: Competiveness in a Global World

If we put our minds to it, Israel could become one of the greatest exporters of quality educational programs instead of highly educated people.We face the greatest gap between our potential, based on exposure to technology and education, and our achievements. The quality of our life is at the bottom of the developed world, and we don’t have to be there. Israel is ranked 38th in the world according to the Economists’ Quality of Life Index; and 23rd according to the 2008 U.N. Human Development Index.

For some countries that might be enough; it’s not enough for us.

We face the greatest gap between our potential, based on exposure to technology and education, and our achievements. The quality of our life is at the bottom of the developed world, and we don’t have to be there.

The idea of leapfrogging Israel’s Quality of Life isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s crucial for our survival – otherwise, we just won’t be competitive.

Competiveness is critical for a country like Israel because the world is going global. And in this world, there’s fierce competition over important resources – technology, people and investments.

These resources are mobile and they can easily move from place to place. So to succeed, a country has to be attractive, and attractiveness is measured competitively.

Since you have so many choices, you have to have a reason to want to live somewhere. There is nothing stopping someone from getting up, packing their bags and moving to Palo Alto.

In fact, right now Israel is one of the biggest exporters of highly educated people in the world.

I believe that in the future, we could become one of the greatest exporters of quality educational programs, if we put our mind to it.

Reut isn’t saying that Israel has to adopt a specific model; to become like Ireland or Singapore. However, in order to leapfrog into one of the leading 15 countries in the world, we need to initiate a bottom up process.

This includes mobilizing the key sectors of society including Arabs, Ultra Orthodox, people from the development towns and periphery, from the big cities, philanthropists, the Jewish world and government ministries to create a shared vision that can motivate us all to achieve this country’s potential.

This was one of the aims of the recent ISRAEL 15 Vision Conference organized by the Reut Institute and is the organizing logic that will guide our work in the future.

Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Reut Institute. The views expressed in this blog are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reut Institute.

Reut Institute

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ISRAEL 15 Vision Conference

Teeth for Peace

Teeth for Peace

We can all make our own special contributions to foster goodwill and understanding.I never thought peace was around the corner when I left North America for Israel back in 1969. But, like everyone, I hoped that one day…

Thirty-nine years have passed, and I’m still dreaming.

I’m a big believer in small. Not all of us are government ministers, but we can all make minor contributions to foster goodwill and understanding. Mine is in the area of children and dental care.

Twelve years ago we began a project at Tel Aviv University of reaching out to educate Jewish and Arab children about the importance of oral hygiene. Initially, we brought in busloads of children from Jaffa and Bedouin settlements for a dental ‘fun day’. They received gifts (not sweets!), had their teeth examined by our senior dental students and faculty, and were taught about the importance of taking care of their teeth. To keep them amused, I developed a play called The Witch and the Toothbrush in which a witch with ugly teeth turns a sassy girl into a toothbrush. The kids, their parents and teachers played the various roles. The spell is reversed only when a young boy learns to brush his teeth properly.

With donations from Ms. Sonia Braverman (LA) and the Arison Foundation, we were able to turn the play into a movie starring the great Israeli comedian Dudu Dotan (this was the last movie he ever made; unfortunately he died at the age of 54, several months later). The movie, available in Hebrew on Youtube was later translated into Arabic, thanks to the help of a prominent dentist, Dr. Bukhari, from Jaffa who did specialist training at Tel Aviv University, along with our students. Both versions are now being watched by children around the world.

In addition, my first children’s book (Bacteria Galore by Sunday at Four) was translated into Arabic and 1,000 books were donated to schools here and in the Gaza Strip (I still have the thank you letter from the UN). The English version of the book (and the Witch and the Toothbrush story) are available on www.meltells.com, a website which I have set up for kids around the world (it’s in English, but I have plans for Hebrew, Arabic and other languages too). Many of the books deal with dental subjects (What to do with a used toothbrush, The amazing tooth fairy), others deal with a variety of health and growing up issues.

Will these reaching out efforts make a difference? Perhaps a small one. I have been to Jordan twice trying to foster peace through teeth. I remember a conversation with a senior military official there who initially found it difficult to even strike up a conversation with an Israeli. At the end of our talk, I hope he came away with a more positive attitude.

One step at a time

Two Israeli-Arab women are undertaking national service as volunteers at the Emek Medical Center, despite hostility from their peers.I want to share a story with you. I do this to show you certain realities of our every day lives in Israel that you would otherwise not be aware of. I also do this so that you will not lose hope – even in the face of atrocities, existential dangers and blatant evil behavior. One step at a time is how we will get from here to there.

Israel is not the easiest place to live and maintain one’s optimism. Fortunately, I represent an institution that re-energizes me every day and allows me the privilege to observe, at eye-level, people making an effort to get along with one another – despite the maelstrom of hate swirling around us.

Political hatred between Jews and Arabs runs very deep and ultimate reconciliation will need to come from an equally deep place from within us all. To reach that place is a painstakingly slow process that requires awareness and the willingness to focus on something positive. There are negative, evil forces continually grabbing at the ankles of anyone trying to move ahead in a conciliatory manner. Without forward momentum, we will be doomed to repeat history’s most deadly errors and remain stuck where we are.

I just met two young women who fit within the complex incomplete jigsaw puzzle that is Israel. They are Suha Rahmoun, a 19-year-old Christian Arab from upper Nazareth and Rozan Haja, a 19-year-old Muslim from lower Nazareth. They both have chosen to perform national service as volunteers within our hospital.

National service is offered to those young citizens who do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces for one reason or another. Completion of one or two years service is rewarded by proportionate monetary grants like those offered to soldiers who complete their military service. Participants also earn a modest salary during their work period.

The two young women came to us via Shlomit, Israel’s largest national service organization serving the Muslim, Christian, Bedouin, Druze and Jewish populations that assists 2,500 young people annually to serve and benefit from national service. The majority of young Arabs choose not to become part of this network, due to complex social, religious, nationalistic or other reasons, thus limiting their inclusion into mainstream Israel. That is why I am sharing the story of Suha and Rozan with you.

They learned about national service from their family and friends and, to the dismay of their peers, decided to join. Initially the girls were challenged by their circle of friends as to why they joined, but their determination to continue won the day.

Rozan explained, “Some of my friends stayed away from me, while others remained close. I believe in what I’m doing and it gives me more hope for the future.”

Suha recalled how she was challenged by an Arab bank teller as to why she was serving and only earning a sixth of what she could earn in other jobs; “I answered him that I am helping people and that makes me feel good about myself. My parents support me and that is what is important.”

Suha is working in the adult Oncology Department as a secretary and has much contact with patients, both Jews and Arabs. It hurts her to see young and old suffering and that has made a deep impression on understanding her own mortality. The positive feedback she receives from patients and staff has proven the correctness of her decision to serve.

Rozan, whose mother is a nurse, is working in the EMC Genetics Institute. She wants to study medicine and her experiences here as a secretary and translator during medical consultations have provided a firm foundation upon which she plans to build.

She claims that patients (Jews and Arabs) are encouraged to see a young Muslim woman working with Jews and this has given her renewed hope for the future. Despite the early social pressure that Rozan experienced, she says, “If you believe in what you are doing, then others will accept it and move on.”

Will young Suha and Rozan working with the Jews in EMC change the geo-political face of the Middle East? Of course not. Will it change anything? It has for me and others. Together, we’ve taken another few steps. These young women have discovered that place deep within themselves that holds the secret to living in Israel with mutual respect and dignity.

The point being … it is possible.