Four senior physicians from Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem recently toured Ethiopia as part of a program initiated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to help strengthen the Ethiopian health care system.

The delegation, comprised of Shaare Zedek Director-General Prof. Jonathan Halevy, Deputy Director-General Dr. Ofer Merin, Head of the Pediatric Wing Prof. Yechiel Schlesinger and pediatric cardiologist Dr. Danny Fink, met with representatives of the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, hospital directors and deans of medical schools to familiarize themselves with the health care system in the developing country and with its needs.

“We realized that the best help we can provide will be in the form of training,” says Dr. Merin. “There are approximately 2,000 physicians in Ethiopia, a country with over 90 million residents. Less than 900 of those physicians are specialists. By comparison, in Israel there are about 30,000 physicians treating eight million residents”.

According to the agreement reached between the delegation and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, Ethiopian physicians who will train in Shaare Zedek Medical Center for a year will be acknowledged by the local institutions as specialists in their field of training. Shaare Zedek will accept three physicians each year for this purpose. The list of medical fields which will offer training in this capacity will be set in the upcoming weeks.

Two physicians already underwent training in pediatric cardiology last year as part of a pilot for the program. “They since returned to their country but we’ve maintained regular contact with them and advise them as need be,” says Merin, and adds that “except for the training, it’s important to establish a long-term connection that will provide them with support, even after their year of training and which will allow us to adapt ourselves to the needs in the field. We need to know what means they have at their disposal so we can provide the best and most suitable training.”

Shaare Zedek Medical Center is the only hospital to take part in this program, and will even bear some of the cost, but most of the funding comes from the JDC which has been assisting the Ethiopian Ministry of Health for years.