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Middle East Peace Programs

UK Doctor Proposes a Holy Land Medical Project

Plans for a collaborative health care project are evolving out of the Middle East Peace Initiative fact-finding trips. Participants in a European MEPI fact-finding tour visited the Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem in 2007 and began developing ideas for ways health professionals in the United Kingdom and Israel could help improve health care for the Palestinians.

They were warmly welcomed by Erwin Schlacher, the hospital's public relations officer. He remarked that we should not feel uncomfortable or intrusive as we toured the hospital facilities because the people of Bethlehem cannot easily travel to meet others and are so grateful to receive such interest from overseas visitors.

In 1952 the founder of the hospital, Father Ernst Schnydrig, had watched a father bury his baby in the frozen ground in front of his tent. Seeing the plight of Palestinian refugees, he was deeply motivated to start this medical facility for children, which is 90 percent financed by charitable contributions. Today the hospital is a well-equipped facility with extensive outpatient services, social work support for families, post-hospitalization, and educational programs for mothers. There is a plan to extend the outpatient facilities and a long-range need to develop surgical capability.

The delegates were very impressed by the hospital tour and the dedication of the hospital's medical director, Dr. Hiyam Marzouqa. Dr. Marzouqa gave a report on the general health situation in the West Bank. She remarked that health care is needed by everyone, regardless of wealth or social status, but facilities are very limited. Working in a region where poverty and political and economic instability prevail is unattractive for skilled medical staff. Plans are made by the government, but their implementation is limited. A lot of resources are expended on making medical referrals outside the Palestinian Authority (Jordan and Israel); it would be more effective economically and clinically to build the local capacity to offer medical care.

The Caritas Hospital has been developing early screening for hearing impairment, which can severely impair child development if undiagnosed. Additionally innovative advances have been made in the use of ultrasound to identify potential mobility problems shortly after birth, making early intervention possible.

The preparatory committee includes Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, former Anglican bishop of Jerusalem; Dr. Peter Patel, Chairman of Saving Lives, a medical aid agency; Ingrid Stellmacher, Head of Policy for Conflict Resolution with Human City Institute; and Robin Marsh, head of UPF-UK Middle East Peace Initiative.

Dr. Peter Patel, a physician with Saving Lives, participated in a MEPI fact-finding trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Saving Lives has built a successful model of collaborative health care in parts of India as a way to promote dialogue and reconciliation between communities in conflict.

Initial connections have been made with the Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Selly Oak Hospital in the UK, exploring the possibilities of collaboration. At an evening reception and dinner in Birmingham, Dr. Patel gave an introduction to the work of Saving Lives and the development of the Holy Land Medical project. Bishop Riah emphasized the effects of any conflict in the Middle East and its influence on cities in the UK and throughout the world. Ingrid Stellmacher explained her hope for conflict resolution through the collaborative effort of Israeli and Palestinian doctors in the project. Robin Marsh shared his experiences through MEPI Fact Finding visits to Palestine and Israel. The evening was attended by the Indian Consul General, Mr. N. P. Sharma, and several representatives of Saving Lives, including medical staff who had helped establish projects in India and other nations. Also present were leading members of Trident Trust and HCI. The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Randall Brew, OBE, and the Lady Mayoress received a delegation in the Mayor’s Parlor.

A board of trustees of Israeli and Palestinian doctors and business managers will oversee proposed health centers in Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah and Nazareth. With support from volunteer doctors from the UK and elsewhere, training courses, telemedicine, exchange visits, and pairing of hospitals are envisioned.

The next step is a fact-finding visit to assess the needs of various hospitals and draw up a business plan. This will be followed by a multi-year commitment to establish a self-sustaining project.

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