The Ben-Gurion University of the Negev runs a unique program in International Medicine with Columbia University that has attracted 100 medical students annually from the United States and other countries. It provides a opportunity for students to learn to understand and treat people from different cultures. As part of the program, students serve in Nepal, India, Kenya and Ethiopia, and ultimately, their skills serve their home communities. American students in the program from various hometowns were identified and three individual stories appeared in their local newspapers, including the Boston Globe. An additional student was interviewed on CNN.

Appeared in:
The Daily News Tribune (Newton, Mass)
The Riverside Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
The Boston Globe

Here is the story that the Riverside Press Enterprise ran on January 3, 2003.


By Jacquie Paul

RIVERSIDE – Those living in the West may think of illnesses like beriberi or severe mental retardation caused by a lack of iodine as footnotes in a history book.

Riverside native Stella Lii knows such conditions still exist. And she’s helping to deliver the cure.

Lii, a second-year medical student at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel, has been working with two other Chinese-speaking students to help Chinese migrant workers who suffer from beriberi. The disease is caused by a lack of vitamin B1. It can cause muscle weakness, nerve damage and heart failure.
The 24-year-old Lii and her classmates encountered the migrant workers after Israeli government officials asked them to help translate for a study of the disease.

Beriberi is extremely rare in Israel, Lii said. It came to the attention of the government after some workers went to doctors with aching muscles and numbness.

Lii, a Riverside North High School and UC Riverside graduate, said she and the other students set out on their own to help the workers.

They taught them about proper nutrition and the importance of getting B1 in their diets. Beriberi can be reversed in cases where the disease has not gotten to the advanced stages, Lii said. The migrant construction workers were eating a diet of refined rice, cabbage and some chicken which did not give them the right nutrients, Lii said.

Although “it’s hard to know exactly what they’re going to do once you leave,” Lii said she and her classmates had heard from the workers who thanked them for their efforts. The workers felt more comfortable with Lii and the other students because they spoke Chinese, she said.

Lii said many people in the world suffer from diseases that haven’t been seen in the West for decades or centuries. The cures often are simple, but may be unavailable to those living in undeveloped countries. Several million people suffer sever mental retardation because of a lack of iodine in their diets, for example, Lii said.

Lii learned about Ben Gurion University’s program in International Health and Medicine through a flier that came with her application for the medical boards. The program is operated in collaboration with Columbia University Health Sciences. The program piqued Lii’s interest, because she has long been interested in travel. Although she grew up in Riverside, she has traveled to Taiwan, China, Spain and Mexico in the past.

“It opens your mind to the way the rest of the world is,” she said.
Maritha, Lii’s mother, said she is proud of her daughter. But, she also worries each time she turns on the television and sees a bombing in Israel.

Lii said she feels perfectly safe in Beer Sheva, because it is away from the areas of conflict, such as Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

“I think the chances of me getting killed would be higher on an LA freeway,” she said.
Lii said her experience in Israel has spurred her to continue toward her goal of aiding the under-served.

“I feel like it takes a special person to be that kind of doctor,” Lii said.

She said she still has not decided whether she’ll work in an undeveloped country, or among the poor in the United States. She likely won’t open a cushy practice.

“I don’t think there’s a shortage of golfing doctors,” she said.

PHOTO ; MUG; Caption: 1. STAN LIM; THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE; Riverside native and UCR grad Stella Lii is on break from studying medicine at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel. She helped several Chinese workers recover from beriberi in her second year of school. 2. Medical student Stella Lii