The recent massive earthquake in Japan that caused a tsunami and the implosion of the nuclear reactors was a powerful reminder of nature’s ability to wreak death and destruction. Following on the heels of last month’s earthquake in Chile and last year’s earthquake in Haiti, we have more than enough evidence of the havoc these disasters inflict.
The aftermath of these dreadful events is a nightmare for the survivors. Tainted water supplies and diseases that spread rapidly in contaminated areas threaten their lives once again. In Japan, the after effects of nuclear radiation pose a deadly problem.
Governments around the world – Israel among them – responded immediately with offers of aid and assistance. As I write this, the Israeli government is considering sending a medical team to set up a field hospital for the earthquake victims. If that should happen, Hadassah specialists will again be asked to participate as they have in the past.
However, public health experts are already there – not Israelis, they are foreign professionals trained at the Braun Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine in our International Masters in Public Health Program (IMPH).
In the 31 years since it was established, 700 men and women from 95 countries have completed the intensive one-year program and returned home to advance the development of their communities – and cope with natural disasters like those in Japan, Chile, Haiti and the tsunami in Thailand several years ago.
“They leave here with heavy tool boxes laden with skills and knowledge – skills and knowledge they put to use on a daily basis and in times like these,” says Program Director Yehuda Neumark PhD, MPH. “We have graduates in all those countries and many, many others.”
The concentrated curriculum consists of a broad range of required and elective courses. Core courses in Epidemiology and the Control of Infectious Diseases will be especially relevant in the days and weeks ahead for those in Japan, as they were in Chile, Haiti and Thailand.
The program has had an enormous impact – not just on the people and populations that now benefit from what the graduates learned here, but on the students themselves.
“Despite the heavy academic demands on their time, we make a concerted effort to show them the treasures of modern and historical Israel,” Dr. Neumark says. “The students form strong personal relationships with their instructors, with each other and with the country and they leave here with a love and understanding of Israel as well as academic expertise.”
While the events of recent weeks occupy our attention, the successes of the graduates over the last three decades speak for themselves. Long after they leave, their relationship with Hadassah and Israel remains. Some of the students, like Dr. Peter Waiswa, a 2003 graduate from Uganda, go on to acquire advanced degrees in prestigious institutions around the world such as his from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Others can be found in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia’s leading universities and some have academic appointments in the United States. Dr. Chinua Akukwe, a 1991 graduate from Nigeria, is currently Adjunct Professor of Global Health at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Still others are working through non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Dr. Alexei Bobrik, a 2001 graduate from Russia, is the Executive Director of the Open Health Institute in Moscow. He received a one hundred million dollar grant from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Russia and neighboring countries. Dr. Norbert Rakiro from Kenya is the Senior Health Officer for 14 countries of East Africa for the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. During last year’s floods in Kenya he reported, “We were out there saving lives.”
The graduates make their mark in government service and on the world stage. Dr. Vladimir Lazarevik, a 2003 graduate from Macedonia, served as Deputy Minister of Health before becoming the Executive President of the 60th session of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for Europe. Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, a 1999 graduate from Kenya was recently appointed Kenya’s Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Rina Hakimian, a 1998 graduate from the United States, is a Senior Attorney for the Public Health Division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Salanieta Saketa, a 1994 graduate from Fiji is the Permanent Secretary of Health of Fiji. She replaced Dr. Lepani Waqatakirewa, also an IMPH graduate now serving as National Advisor on Non-Communicable Diseases in the Fiji Ministry of Health.
They bring the knowledge they acquired to hospitals in big cities and small towns. Dr. Irakli Sasania, a 1998 graduate from Georgia, is the Chief Administrator of Central Children’s Hospital in Tbilisi where he opened the first pediatric emergency care room. Dr. Alex Brown an indigenous doctor from Australia and 1999 graduate, is Director of the Center for Indigenous Vascular and Diabetes Research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia’s Northern Territory town of Alice Springs.
I make it a point to be at the IMPH graduation ceremony every year – to speak to the graduates and their families and friends who always fill the hall with excitement. Today, as I watch the news coming in from Japan, I am proud of the important role Hadassah plays in the lives of the graduates and the lives of the people of their countries – from Albania to Zambia – and all points in between.
This week’s terror attack in Jerusalem is a grim reminder that nature is not the only force responsible for inflicting death and injury. As the ambulances pulled up to our Emergency Rooms on Mt. Scopus and at Ein Kerem, many of us were thrust back in time to the years when the sounds of the sirens and the cries of the wounded were daily events. Now as then, our entire staff performed efficiently and effectively with caring and compassion. And now as then, we were heartened by the many messages we received from our Hadassah friends and family throughout the world.
We all look forward to the time when the destructive forces of nature are overcome and our enemies “beat their swords into plowshares.”
Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef