Ebola, the deadly virus that swept through West Africa in 2014, caused panic and fear worldwide. Not only did tiny Israel reach out a helping hand, but it was recognized by the African Union Commission as the largest donor per capita for fighting and preventing the spread of Ebola.
MASHAV-Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation of the Foreign Ministry, donated protective suits to African Union troops in Ethiopia; sent public-health and infectious-disease experts to train personnel at six Cameroon hospitals; and shipped tons of supplies including three mobile emergency Ebola treatment units to the affected countries, accompanied by Israeli technical and medical personnel.
The volunteer organization IsraAID did training in Sierra Leone on protecting against infection and managing the stress caused by widespread fear of the virus and its survivors.
Liberia’s senate president, Armah Zolu Jallah, came to Israel to say “thank you” for its help in fighting a fatal Ebola outbreak.
This year, MASHAV provided emergency protective equipment to Cameroon to help fight the spread of the bird-flu epidemic affecting the country.
Israel is at the forefront of healthcare assistance throughout the developing world – not only in Africa.
Among the many humanitarian healthcare missions undertaken by Israeli governmental and non-governmental agencies are free eye surgeries and AIDS prevention programs, cervical cancer screenings and emergency medical aid, malaria prevention, medical clowning and public health education.
Eye from Zion, established in 2007 by Israeli businessman Nati Marcus, regularly sends top Israeli ophthalmologists with Israeli-designed mobile operating rooms to remote corners of the world to perform free surgeries for glaucoma and other serious eye conditions.
Countries served so far include Azerbaijan, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Maldives Islands and Nepal. The Israelis also train local doctors in advanced methods.
On World Cancer Day earlier this year, hundreds of women in Kenya were screened for cervical cancer using 20 Enhanced Visual Assessment (EVA) systems donated by their maker, Tel Aviv-based MobileODT. EVAs require only a mobile phone and Internet connection. MobileODT has also worked with communities in the United States, Haiti, Guatemala, Botswana, Nepal, Afghanistan and Mexico.
In AIDS prevention, Dr. Zvi Bentwich, director of the Center for Emerging Tropical Diseases and AIDS at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, labors to eradicate common parasitic infestations that contribute to Africa’s AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics. His NALA Foundation, which promotes community engagement for behavioral change, received a Bill & Melinda Gates grant and is officially becoming Ethiopia’s national model. Bentwich believes NALA’s approach will spread to other countries as well.
The Jerusalem AIDS Project’s Operation Abraham program in cooperation with Hadassah Medical Organization has educated millions of people in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe about AIDS prevention and the adult male circumcision procedure that significantly lowers risk.
This year, the World Health Organization announced that the Israeli PrePex nonsurgical circumcision device will be made available as part of its AIDS prevention program for all teenage males in 14 priority countries in Southern and Eastern Africa.
Public health knowhow
Since 1961, about 1,000 health professionals from nearly 100 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America have received training in child and maternal health, mental health and even medical clowning through the government-funded Community Oriented Primary Care program of the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
From rural Zulu villages to Kathmandu, said Braun Dean Prof. Ora Paltiel, “our curricula promote interdisciplinary approaches to public health and prepare the next generation of researchers, practitioners and teachers to identify, quantify and effectively address complex public health challenges at the clinic, village, city, region, country, and global levels.”
In December 2013, the Braun School hosted an international conference of malaria experts to formulate a new strategy for African nations, which drew representatives from Gabon and Zanzibar.
Malaria, a serious public-health problem, is the focus of research for several Israeli scientists. Dr. Alberto Bilenca of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev received a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to co-develop a mobile-phone imaging system for diagnosing and monitoring malaria, now in final testing stages. Hebrew University Prof. Ron Dzikowski won a Gates grant for his team’s work in uncovering the genetic mechanism enabling the malaria-carrying parasite to evade the immune system, paving the way for development of new therapies and vaccines.
One-off healthcare initiatives
In addition to ongoing programs, Israel rushes healthcare aid to countries on an as-needed basis.
Below are a few examples from only the past two years.
MASHAV sent two Israeli neonatal experts to Turkmenistan to teach essential newborn care and neonatal resuscitation skills to local healthcare professionals. After the course, which was organized by Israel’s Embassy in Turkmenistan through MASHAV in cooperation with UNICEF-Turkmenistan, the Israelis donated two resuscitating mannequins that they brought with them from Israel to facilitate continued training.
Neonatologists from Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheva went to Kumasi, Ghana, to evaluate the effectiveness of two neonatal units they set up at a hospital there in 2011 in an effort to lower the high infant mortality in the city. They aim to make this model replicable and available to other Sub-Saharan countries.
In July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dedicated an Israeli-built emergency trauma unit at Kampala’s Mulago Hospital in memory of his brother, Yoni, and others killed in the 1976 counterterrorist raid at Entebbe Airport. The unit, which is being upgraded and refurbished by MASHAV, serves as a professional referral center for Uganda.
The nationwide voluntary first-response network United Hatzalah of Israel is training volunteers in several countries how to implement its community-based model for reaching people in medical distress within three minutes. Sessions are taking place in the United States, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania and India.
MASHAV donated two skin graft meshers from Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center to Taipei hospitals to treat more 200 of the most seriously burned victims of a severe water park explosion in June 2015.
That summer, MASHAV also sent two Israeli experts to lead a three-day-training for 30 Ukrainian nurses who work at hospitals and mobile emergency units in areas of conflict; and organized its third medical mission to Cameroon, to provide vaccinations and medical consultations for 500 resident and refugee children in the small town of Batouri.
MASHAV also regularly hosts healthcare workers from developing countries for training courses.