Medical Marijuana – Israel’s growing “HIGH-tech” leader
By Rolene Marks
Israelis are renowned for being high on life. In fact, Israelis rank very high on the UN’s happiness index, coming in at number 11, far higher than our US and British friends.
Could it be that there is a secret to being happy and chill in the most volatile region in the world?
“Doobie”, “blunt”, “chronic”, “wacky baccy”, “Mary Jane”, “dope”, “ganja”, “weed” or whatever you call it, cannabis is inspiring one of the fastest growing industries in the world and Israel is leading the way.
In 2016, the Israeli government announced that it will expand the number of doctors trained and authorized to prescribe medical marijuana. In January of 2017, the government announced plans to decriminalize personal marijuana use and in February a government committee approved cannabis export.
In April 2019, Israel’s largest medical cannabis company, Breath of Life filed their preliminary prospectus for listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).
The company, also known as BOL Pharma, would be the first Israeli medical cannabis firm to list its shares on the TSX. Kalytera Therapeutics Inc., also an Israeli medical cannabis firm, has shares listed on the TSX Venture Exchange, Canada’s public venture capital exchange for emerging companies.
Cannabis can do’s!
Israel is a world leader in cannabis technology for a variety of reasons. When it comes to medical marijuana research, Israel is one of the leading cannabinoid centres, attracting interest from around the world and experts are descending on the tiny state to learn more.
Am Yisrael high?
Israel is a start-up and hi-tech powerhouse so why should adapting this to suit the needs of cannabis tech be any different?
What is the secret that Israelis have cottoned on to that is making medical marijuana a fast-emerging market that many want to invest in?
Israeli scientists are among the world leaders in modifying marijuana’s molecular structure to tailor cannabinoids to specific receptors for treating symptoms of disease.
Agricultural technology such as drip irrigation is being tested and used successfully in the growing of cannabis crops before being used on other similar plants.
The decriminalization of personal marijuana use has also allowed the Israeli government to regulate medical marijuana and make it more accessible and available by prescription at pharmacies.
“Cannabis should be considered, so far as possible, in the same manner as any other medicinal product, requiring supervision and regulation in order to protect public health and welfare, even when taking into account its special characteristics — being a plant rather than a product manufactured in a laboratory or factory,” according to the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit.
It turns out that the munchies can prove to be medicinal!
There are many ways to take your medicine. Short of the traditional way, Israeli tech experts have devised new and creative ways to take your daily dose. A variety of delivery systems have been invented such as tablets, a patch, a nasal spray or a cigarette making it easier to regulate dosage.
Major pharmaceutical companies are also getting in on the medical marijuana action and have come up with solutions or devices to help patients.
* Teva Pharmaceutical Industries agreed to market medical cannabis for pain management in Israel with a revolutionary selective-dose pharmaceutical-grade medicinal plants inhaler from Tel Aviv-based Syqe Medical.
*Israel-American company Cannabics Pharmaceuticals is working to put the medicinal compounds of cannabis into a sustained-release capsule in standardized doses.
* Australia-based PhytoTech Medical is developing an adhesive patch with medical cannabis, based on Hebrew University technologies.
Different strains treat different conditions, and did you know that you can even grow your own. For medicinal purposes of course…
The blooming cannabis industry is expected to grow exponentially in the years to come. In the United States, the industry already boasts a $5.7 billion market.
Israel’s growing marijuana high-tech industry proves that the grass is greener on the other side – even in the desert!
Potential New Israeli Treatment ‘targets’ Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer
ByDavid E. Kaplan
While South Africa’s premier university, UCT makes international news of its proposed boycott of academic institutions in Israel, alumni of Israeli universities are making far more remarkable news seeking to save rather than destroy lives.
The irony is that some of these Israelis who are in the vanguard of groundbreaking medical research are former South Africans!
One such is medical oncologist Dr. Talia Golan, a graduate of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University (TAU) is the head of Sheba Medical Center’s Pancreatic Cancer Center.
While UCT conducts itself at the southern tip of Africa hardly befitting its historic moniker “The Cape of Good Hope”, Israeli researchers headed by Dr. Talia Golan are offering genuine “Good Hope” for some pancreatic cancer patients. A world-renowned specialist and researcher in the field of pancreatic cancer, Dr. Golan is also the director of Phase I clinical trials unit at Sheba’s Pancreatic Cancer Center.
Having immigrated from Pretoria, South Africa with her parents Dr. Alfie and Dr.Myra Feinberg – prominent physicians in their own right – when she was 13 years old, Dr. Golan today is in the front lines of battling pancreatic cancer by striving to find the “magic bullet” that could possibly cure several forms of the disease in the near future.
In 2017, Dr. Golan was already feeling confident. “I believe the changes in the way we treat pancreatic cancer, using new and innovative technologies, will result in the emergence of game-changing drugs in the near future,” adding that “these treatments will target the specific gene mutation that causes the cancer, re-engineer it, and eliminate it as a threat.”
That “near future” may have arrived.
Potential Power of Polo
Last week in June 2019, the research team headed by Dr. Golan at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, announced that a targeted cancer therapy drug they developed together with two of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Merck & Co.Inc. – known as POLO – offers “potential hope” for patients with a specific kind of pancreatic cancer, as it delays the progression of the disease.
“The POLO trial using the medicine Lynparza offers potential hope for those who suffer from metastatic pancreatic cancer and have a BRCA mutation,” explains Dr. Golan. “This treatment also exemplifies the advent of ‘precision medicine’ based on a specific genetic biomarker, BRCA 1 & 2.”
Pancreatic cancer is the 12th most common cancer worldwide, with 458,918 reported new cases in 2018 alone. It is the 4th leading cause of cancer death, and less than 3% of patients with metastatic disease survive more than five years after diagnosis. It is difficult to diagnose pancreatic cancer early, as often there are no symptoms until it is too late. Around 80% of patients are diagnosed at the metastatic stage.
So, what are BRCA Mutations?
“A Huge Thing”
As explained in the research, “BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce proteins responsible for repairing damaged DNA and play an important role in maintaining the genetic stability of cells. When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product either is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly, and cells become unstable. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer. A significant number of Ashkenazi Jews (European origin) around the world are carriers of the BRCA 1 & 2 genes.”
The POLO study was held with 154 patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer who carried the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genetic mutations.
“When we saw the results were positive it was an exceptional, phenomenal moment,” said Golan in an interview. “For the field it is a huge thing.”
She added that this is the first Phase 3 biomarker study that is positive in pancreatic cancer and the drug “provides tremendous hope for patients” with the advanced stage of the cancer. “This drug has shown efficacy and a tremendous really phenomenal response in this patient population,” she said.
Light Unto The Nations
At the launch last December during Chanukah in Cape Town of the South African Friends of Sheba Medical Center at the city’s contemporary art gallery, “WHATIFTHEWORLD”, Dr Talia Golan said:
“I’m extremely proud of my Jewish South African roots. Africa is in my soul and it’s an honour to represent Sheba Medical Center, where we work to bring cutting edge care to patients, from IDF soldiers to people of all walks of life in Israel and around the world.”
Yoel Har-Even, Sheba Medical Centre’s Chief of Staff added:
“We are looking forward to strengthening the relationship between the South African community and Sheba Medical Center in Israel. Our goals include formulating programmes that will allow South African students from different spheres of the medical sector to intern and to specialize at Sheba Medical Center, assist disadvantaged communities in South Africa and the rest of the African continent by building bridges with us and ongoing support for Sheba’s highest standards of medicine, research, innovation and technology, transforming medicine in Israel and worldwide.”
Executive Director of the South African Friends of Sheba Medical Center, Naomi Hadar, who had spent the past 17 years as one of the most influential Jewish organizational community leaders in South Africa (IUA-UCF) said:
“It is a privilege to be a part of Sheba’s innovative medical centre, which provides global outreach to communities around the world, including the South African community. As our event in Cape Town took place during Chanukah, we hope to bring light to the South African Jewish community and the African continent as a whole. I am looking forward to helping Sheba make a difference in many people’s lives.”
While Dr. Talia Golan, who left Pretoria at the age of 13, leads the battle to find a cure for Pancreatic Cancer supported by the Jewish community in South Africa, one wonders what will cure the ‘cancer’ gripping South Africa’s political leadership that seeks to alienate the country – diplomatically to academically – from Israel?
Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying, they spread killer diseases and are often called one of the most dangerous animals on the planet
By David E. Kaplan
Many Israelis are alive today ONLY because of the country’s penchant for finding solutions to existential problems. A classic example is the ‘Iron Dome’ – a mobile all-weather air defense system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets from 4 kilometres to 70 kilometres away and whose trajectory would take them to an area populated with Israeli civilians.
Its success has been proven in battle. The Iron Dome hits 90% of rockets aimed at populated areas.
However, there are “populated areas” all over the world under daily threat for incoming aerial attacks of a totally different kind – the dreaded mosquito, and Israeli ingenuity have these critters now firmly ‘in their sights’.
Mosquitoes have killed many more humans than all wars in history.
It is the most dangerous creature in Africa responsible for killing more Africans than any other through the spread of malaria, dengue and other diseases. Malaria kills over a million on the African continent every year, most of these are children under the age of five.
While the threat in Israel is less lethal, they are super annoying. Who is unfamiliar with them buzzing around your bed keeping you awake all night with their infernal whining sound as they dive into attack like the once-feared WWII German Stuka dive bomber! For those that penetrate your ‘Home Guard” defense system – from protective clothing, mosquito repellents, mosquito killer lamps to even eating garlic – the aftermath of an assault results in bites, itches, endless scratching, and finally sores or what I describe as “my battle scars”!
The best defense against mosquitoes is making sure they can’t get to your skin and an Israeli start-up Bzigo has developed a device that scans and locates the biting insects in a room, sending a message to a phone app allowing you to easily kill them. A future model will be capable of eliminating them as well!
This is like a computer game but for real!
Developed over the three years, the Bzigo device looks like a box the size of a compact smartphone that can be connected to the wall or stand-alone on a flat surface. It uses infrared camera that marks the mosquito’s exact location with a red laser once it lands providing the essential ‘intelligence’ to the disgruntled humans to kill them.
Although the current model only helps locate the mosquito, Bzigo CEO, Nadav Benedek says “we are working a future model that will be able to eliminate the mosquito on its own. In reality, killing a mosquito is the easy part – the real challenge is in detecting them. Mosquitoes are adept at avoiding human vision, attacking us when we don’t notice them. But once you know a mosquito is in the room and see where it landed, killing it is simple.”
The technology is based on an algorithm that can detect the movements of a mosquito with a wide-angle high-resolution camera that constantly photographs the walls and ceiling of a room to locate the pest, before sending a message via Wi-Fi to the homeowner’s smartphone.
The brains behind this potential “Iron Dome” against mosquitoes is Saar Wilf, 45, and company CEO Nadav Benedek, 38, both of whom served in the elite IDF intelligence unit 8200. They are trained to zero in on the enemy and firmly in their crosshairs is the mosquito.
“To date, we have carried out hundreds of tests with live mosquitos,” says Benedek. “At first, Saar would spend hours trapping them with containers and nets, but then we found a supplier from the Emek Hefer region.”
Asked by YNet.news.com why they chose to focus on mosquitos, Wilf replied that “anyone with a technological inclination, has at some point in their life thought to find a technological solution to this annoying problem; we were just persistent.”
Benedek described how growing up in the central Israeli town of Pardes Hana, the home was surrounded by netting and recollects how “my Dad always checked my room before bedtime in summer for ten minutes to find and kill mosquitos.”
The Tel Aviv based start-up assures that its device is safe to use near children, food and in hospitals and although the initial model is made for home use, the plan is to produce a model suitable for industrial use, such as to kill pests on farms and in hothouses.
The device is expected to be available on the market in 2021 and will sell for about $170.
Mosquitoes don’t play fair: They target some people more than others and I am one of them and welcome any addition to my arsenal to take on these critters.
Two Young Israeli engineers introduce clean water to Ugandan community
By David E. Kaplan
Israelis have their eyes on Africa, not to exploit but to enrich.
Such was the motivation for two 26-year-old water engineering graduates Selda Edris and Mayes Morad, both from the Galilee who as students were shocked on discovering the level of poverty in rural Uganda.
“We were amazed by the living condition of the children,” said Morad. “We were exposed to horrible poverty and were shaken to see children shivering when it got cold, barefoot or with torn shoes.”
It was one thing to be “shocked”, but both asked the question:
“Can we do something about it? Can we make a difference?”
Following their graduation it was not the exotic beaches of the far east that attracted these idealistic engineers. Armed with their education, they wanted to volunteer and knew exactly where. The calling was clear; they wanted to help provide a specific Ugandan community with clean drinking water.
So, soon after graduating, Edris, from the Circassian village of Rehaniya, and Mayes from the Druze village of Beit Jann on Mount Meron in northern Israel, joined the HELPAPP organization and set off for a community in Uganda that pulled at their heartstrings. “There were 900 school children from the region that drank water from a nearby swamp that filled up in winter,” said Edris.
Although the three schools in the community boiled the swamp water before drinking, “this was hardly a safe solution” to the young Israelis.
Finding “a solution” proved challenging to the enterprising and innovative young engineers. However, Edris and Morad were finally able to install sinks and taps in the schools and connect them to a proper purification facility. When complete, 900 children had running clean water.
The reality of what they achieved struck home.
“When I saw how happy they were when they just turned on the tap and water came out, I thought to myself,” says Morad, “what in the world would make me, or my nieces and nephews who are the same age as these schools kids, feel so happy?”
The joy in the children’s eyes when they opened a tap to wash their hands and water came out stayed with her. “It’s difficult to imagine that there are children in this world who don’t have the most basic commodity – drinking water – only because they weren’t fortunate enough to be born in the right place.”
For Edris and Morad “Clean water is a basic right for every person in this world – regardless of where you were born.”
After providing a solution to supplying the schools with running water, the two Israelis initiated a Facebook fundraising campaign to buy shoes for many the children who ran around barefoot on the hard-arid African terrain.
We Shall Return
“We’ve helped hundreds of children, but we know there are so many others in other parts of Uganda, who don’t consider drinking water a given,” says Edris. “We want to come back to Uganda and initiate a larger scale operation.”
Ask a young teenager in Israel, the USA or Europe what they most want? The answers would not be even close to the answer a 13-year-old girl gave Edris. “All she wanted was clean water, clothes and an electrical light at home to light up the house when it gets dark. What we take for granted isn’t taken for granted in so many places around the world, and that’s sad. She broke my heart.”
It also broke Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1950s. When the future Prime Minister was appointed Israel’s second Foreign Minister in 1956, Golda announced that a cornerstone of her foreign policy was to reach out to the African states emerging from colonial rule. The rationale for this was lost to many at the ministry. After all, the new countries were often poorer than Israel and facing greater security, environmental and other problems; what could they possibly help Israel with?
“Independence had come to us, as it came to Africa, not served up on a silver platter, but after years of struggle. Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together and how to defend ourselves…. The main reason for our ‘African Adventure’ was that we had something we wanted to pass on to nations that were even younger and less experienced than ourselves.”
That “African adventure” continues today inspiring young and talented Israelis like Selda Edris and Mayes Morad who could not stand idly by in the face of suffering.
Israeli doctors develop revolutionary eye drops that could replace eyeglasses
ByDavid E. Kaplan
More than 6 in 10 people in the world wear glasses or contact lenses. Amongst the elder, it is extremely rare not to use glasses or contact lenses.
However, in the foreSEEable future, advanced eye drops may allow you to chuck out your glasses or contact lenses.
It’s a no-brainer:
If the choice to see well would be: glasses, contact lenses, laser surgery or drops in your eyes, the last option would probably be your first.
This is now a real possibility as new scientific advances in Israel make corrective eye drops possible.
In Israel, two startups are in the clinical stages of testing their corrective eye drops that can radically alter the way people improve the convenience of their vision.
Soon you may read this without glasses!
Orasis Pharmaceuticals of Herzliya are on the warpath against reading glasses. Sure, reading glasses are effective but they are also inconvenient and easily misplaced.
How many of you have at some time lost them and had to replace?
Orasis recently raised $13 million to continue developing pharmaceutical-grade eye drops intended to improve near vision so people won’t need their reading glasses.
Its CEO, Elad Kedar, says presbyoia (the inability to focus on close objects) affects most folk over age 45, giving the company a potential market of nearly 2 billion people around the globe; 120 million in United States.
“Like any other organ, the lenses in our eyes age and gradually lose the flexibility to change shape to focus on near objects,” explains Kedar. “The reduction in flexibility makes it difficult to focus on near objects and eventually you need reading glasses.”
While it has been a long journey to find alternative solutions such as contact lenses or inlays, they have all come with problems of efficacy, safety or convenience of use.
“We developed a pharmacological solution,” says Kedar, “using a combination of existing molecules already used in the eye for other indications. You just put a drop in each eye, and you can potentially see well for several hours. It can be very safe and convenient.”
More than five years of R&D have gone into Orasis’ CSF-1 patented formula. Following studies in humans in a few centers in Israel and Europe, the results are soon to be published. The next step is a Phase 2b study in the United States.
Another ‘eye-catching’ innovation is NANO-DROPS that means -“No more blurry vision.”
Israeli ophthalmologists at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA) revealed last month that they have successfully developed eyedrops that repair the corneas, improving near-sighted and far-sighted vision. These “nanodrops” were successfully tested on pigs’ corneas and are expected to be tested on humans in clinical trials later this year.
If proven successful on humans, the groundbreaking discovery could remove the need for eyeglasses.
The nanodrops are made up of a synthetic nanoparticle solution, which helps correct cornea-related vision problems.
Dr. David Smadja, a research associate at BINA and the Head of the Ophthalmology Research Unit at Shaare Zedek who led the team of ophthalmologists, made the announcement at Shaare Zedek’s second annual research conference last month. He said the nanodrops could “revolutionize ophthalmological and optometry treatments of patients with myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and other refractory conditions.
Even more ‘far out’, Smadja believes that the drops could eventually replace multifocal lenses and allow people to see objects from different distances.
The inspiration for the eye drops says Smadja, “was personal.” Suffering for years with headaches from working at his computer for long periods of time, “I knew I needed a small visual correction, but my choices were limited. My correction was so small that I was not eligible for any laser operation,” and hence “My options at the time were either wearing glasses or contact lenses.”
Smadja recognised that the standard solutions for visual correction failed to cure dry eyes, a symptom common among screen users, and decided to create a better alternative:
“I thought, why not make eye drops that could correct my vision with a refractive index?”
The Future Is Ours To See
The researchers are currently working with investors on a biotech startup and plan to place their Nano-Drops product on the market by the summer of 2020.
Smadja says the aim is to sell the drops at a competitive price, “somewhere between the price of eyeglasses and the price of contacts.”
In addition to the nanodrops, the researchers are developing a small, smartphone-compatible laser device that will allow patients to easily apply the drops at home using a mobile application.
“Once you have your prescription, you enter this number into a computation software that we developed, and we match specific patterns to your number. The laser painlessly marks a tiny spot and etches a pattern on the corner of the cornea,” explains Smadja who adds that the laser “is not like the laser used for complicated optical procedures.” He assures that the application process, “while seemingly complicated, is simple and non-invasive.”
As they say, Israel is a country of ‘VISIONaries”!
A Call to Doctors in Israel – are you ‘game’ to enjoy the best of South Africa’s superlative nature while volunteering your medical expertise?
By David E. Kaplan
They say, ‘South Africans may leave South Africa, but it never leaves them’. This was so for Neil Tabatznik originally from Johannesburg and today living in Toronto who has “returned” with a difference, offering doctors across the world an experience of a lifetime.
“Imagine a luxurious five-star lodge where you can braai (barbeque) under a star-filled sky and watch game having a drink while relaxing in the pool after your day at the hospital or a clinic,” said Alan Epstein of Tel Aviv and head of Tshemba PR in Israel.
You don’t have to imagine!
“Whether you are a GP, a gynecologist, pediatrician, cardiologist, endocrinologist, orthopod, optician or dentist – you name it – whether in practice or retired, you can take up this offer of a lifetime of enjoying in luxury the incomparable beauty of the Limpopo region, what used to be known as the Eastern Transvaal, a stone throw from the Kruger National Park and close to Blyde River Canyon.”
For a minimum of two weeks or six months or more, this is available to doctors by volunteering their expertise at a nearby hospital or local clinics. “And of course, this includes doctors bringing their spouses or partners.”
It all began when Alan’s lifelong friend, Neil Tabatznik, on a trip some years ago to South Africa from Canada, visited a game lodge in the Hoedspruit area.
It introduced an awakening that transformed his life from successful businessman to inspired philanthropist and fulfilling the ancient aspiration in Judaism of Tikun Olam (“Correcting the world”).
Out On The Range
While sitting up front in a Range Rover and mesmerised by the beauty of the terrain and wildlife, Neil was also struck that beneath the veneer of this beauty there were also serious challenges in this exquisite region. As if reading his thoughts, the game ranger enquired whether Neil would consider building a school for young children.
“He explained the community had built a room and found a headmaster but was far from adequate,” reveals Neil.
Following the school being built and flourishing with young pupils, Neil felt the need to do more and sat down with the local tribal chief and asked:
“How else can I help?”
“We need drastically to improve our health services in the area,” replied the chief. “To say it’s inadequate would be an understatement and because we are far from the major urban areas, my people are suffering from being denied access to specialised medical treatment.”
Visiting a local dental clinic, the chief’s word struck home. “The clinic was a fine facility but there were no dentists!”
This was a microcosm of the problem – while there were sufficient structures there were too few qualified medical practitioners to staff them.
So the idea was conceived not to build unnecessary structures but to recruit qualified personnel.
What Neil witnessed in his extensive touring of the region “was so tragic”, the more so because much of the tragedy was preventable – “its man made and can be man corrected.”
Failing to provide access to adequate medical services “meant that people’s health was always at risk and getting sick or injured could so easily lead to tragic consequences – a result that would not happen in a city,” lamented Neil.
This he was determined to change!
And so, the Tshemba Foundation was established on the premise that if a patient could not get to a health service in a faraway urban area the health service will come to the patient.
Tshemba, which means “believe” in local parlance, recruits doctors and healthcare professionals from all across the world to provide lifesaving medical care to the local community and training to local healthcare providers. A key component of the volunteer experience “is to ensure skill transfer to these local medical providers to provide long-term sustainability,” says Neil. “In this way, every volunteer practitioner creates a lasting legacy – a legacy of saving lives.”
“There are so many South Africans in the medical field in Israel – many also that have retired – who I am sure would relish this opportunity of enriching South Africa and in the process, enrich themselves,” says Alan Epstein, who emigrated from South Africa to Israel in 1978 and who owns and operates Anglo-Saxon real estate in Savyon. Alan is the oldest franchise holder of the Israeli company that was established in 1964 by another South African, the late Dave Blumberg.
“South African doctors have made an enormous contribution to medicine in Israel and I feel many of them would enjoy giving back to South Africa while at the same time enjoying the experience with the 5-star luxury on offer.”
He invites all interested to be in touch with him.
Tshemba needs doctors, both general practitioners and specialists, as well as professionals with healthcare experience and expertise.
All medical volunteers must be fully licensed to practice in South Africa but those who are not, “we will do our best to obtain all necessary permits and licenses on your behalf,” explains Barbara McGorian, the CEO of Tshemba Foundation. “If we receive all the right documentation, the process usually takes only about three weeks.”
“Tshemba will place you where you are most needed,” says Barbara, “whether at the Tintswalo Hospital, a 20-minute drive away, or in one of the many clinics spread throughout the community.” Tintswalo is a 423-bedded acute hospital providing maternity, psychiatric, orthopedic, surgical and general medical care to the community. The hospital is also responsible for providing medical staff to several community clinics in the area.
Tshemba also funded the Hlokomela Women’s Centre – a pioneering healthcare project which provides breast and cervical cancer screening as well as treatment to local farm workers and their families. It is the first of its kind in the region.
Leaving a Legacy
In order to maintain the appropriate level of care once the volunteer experience is over, it is imperative that skills and expertise are transferred to the local healthcare providers.
In pursuit of this aim, says Barbara, “Be prepared to teach and to train the local personnel you work with, encourage training, motivate them to actively continue their skill acquisitions and wherever possible, stay in touch with the doctors or nurses left behind after your departure.”
A visit to the Tshemba website, acquaints one with one of Muhammad Ali’s most famous quotes:
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth.”
Well, for voluntary service at Tshemba, the “room” one receives is the ultimate in luxurious accommodation at a scenic hideaway surrounded by the lowveld bush filled with an array of game, bird species, fauna and flora.
The five-star lodge boasts nine stand-alone en-suite chalets that can accommodate up to 18 volunteers in total. Each chalet has a private deck with a breathtaking view of the bush, a tea and coffee nook and a small lounge area. All the rooms are self-catering, although there is also a communal area for dining and socializing featuring two comfortable lounge areas with a fireplace, a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art kitchen and scullery and a spacious dining room, a TV room and a gym.
“Best of all,” says Epstein who was there recently with his wife, “you can relax outside by the wooden deck and infinity pool and enjoy the superb views of the Klein Drakensberg Mountains and a watering hole that draws the animals of Moditlo Private Game Reserve.”
Also on offer are:
Self-drive game viewing in the Kruger National Park
Guided expeditions on private game reserves
Wildlife photography tours
The Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre
The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre & Cheetah Project
The Khamai Reptile Park
Hiking, driving, boat or air Blyde Canyon tours
White river rafting
Hot air ballooning
Handcraft curio shops
Best Of Both Worlds
“What motivates doctors to volunteer?” I ask.
“It’s an amalgam of love of medicine, a love of South Africa and the yearning to give back to society,” says the CEO.
The general response from volunteers, many of whom choose to return, is “we get the best of both worlds. We are able to enjoy a beautiful game reserve while at the same time make a difference with our skills and expertise as doctors to a community in need.”
Says Dr. Kate Meyer from the UK, “I loved every moment of it. It was a privilege to have participated in the project, which I think is an incredible gift to the community.”
Volunteers are essentially providing ‘first world’ care to a ‘third world’ area.
“It was a wonderful experience both socially and professionally,” expressed Dr. Paul Deveux from South Africa who worked at the hospital and was also thankful for his hours at the Hlokomela Women’s Centre, “which is an extremely well organized.” Praising the local staff, “I felt I made my best contribution there because I was able to see psychiatric patients with longstanding anxiety disorders, some which could be managed and others who needed further intense assessments.”
For nurse Maureen Dunnett, specialising in Midwifery who traveled with the hardworking Hlokomela Clinic staff to farms and other clinics said, “Every day was a different experience for me. The time spent around HIV-testing and treating was illuminating.”
“I would not change it for anything and would definitely come back,” said Dr. Tienie Theunissen, also from within South Africa.
“All the volunteers find it rewarding,” says Barbara. “We recently had a German couple; she was a gynecologist and he a banker. So while she worked at the hospital, he volunteered teaching math at a local school and found the experience as rewarding as his wife.”
The hospital can deliver anywhere between 13 to 20 babies a day; we brought in thirteen babies on Christmas day.”
Going on ‘Jobbymoon’
Located in what many would describe as one of the most beautiful areas in South Africa, it’s understandable how the sobriquet “JOBBYMOON” has caught on.
If newlyweds go on honeymoons and parents-to-be take babymoons -– so why not a ‘Jobbymoon’ for couples desiring that totally out-of-the-ordinary working holiday in the most idyllic location.
The Tshemba lodge is located midway between the world-famous Kruger National Park and the world’s largest green canyon, the Blyde River Canyon. “Thus, if you or your partner want to go exploring during your downtime, we assure you you’ll find something spectacular to do,” says Barbara. The ‘jobbymooners’ are free to explore Hoedspruit and surroundings, to re-energise before returning home “with a fresh mindset, ready to tackle new challenges, focused and refreshed.”
Says Dr. Hennie Nortje a Diabetologist, “Although the staff is completely overwhelmed by the amount of work, they are hungry for knowledge and incredibly friendly. Even the patients are humble, friendly and unbelievably grateful. The whole experience left me in awe. I’m excited to see how the new diabetic educators are doing and my wife enjoyed teaching at the preschool at Hlokomela.”
Dentist, Maria Pestana felt blessed by the Tshemba experience. “When I saw an article on this unique project, I knew Tshemba might offer a very different experience – to help people in rural areas while at the same time enjoying the bush. It’s a balance between the beauty of nature and the reality of life.”
For former South Africans now living in Australia, Gerrit Burger, a physician volunteered and his wife Diana, a General Practitioner, felt” humbled by the sense that we received so much more blessing from this experience than those we sought to help.”
Gerrit feels convinced that “Tintswalo hospital and district can be developed into a model of healthcare with far-reaching effects, well beyond South Africa itself. Without fear of exaggeration, we see a time when Tshemba and Tintswalo will be ‘ideas’ rather than ‘names’.”
“Amazing things” are happening every day at Tshemba.
Tshemba’s Project Specialist, Lexi Cohen says: “I interact with most of the volunteers and each one has found the experience to be rewarding and very fulfilling whether in patient care, skills transfer or general contact with staff.”
Driving seriously ill Palestinian patients to hospitals in Israel
“How come the general public is unaware?” I asked the former chairman of Israel’s Labour Party, General Amram Mitzna about his participation as a volunteer driving seriously ill Arab patients from Gaza for lifesaving treatment at hospitals in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem. Harping back to the title of a classic sixties western, his reply reflected the unsavory reputation of contemporary journalism – “anything good is considered boring to report, so the focus is on the bad and the ugly.”
A strange thought crossed my mind as I sat down for this exclusive interview in the modest apartment in north Tel Aviv of this former general who received the ‘Medal of Distinguished Service’ for his actions during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, both of which he was wounded. Had he, as leader of the Labour Party won the 2003 election, Amran Mitzna would have been Prime Minister of Israel and so my thought was:
“Where else in the world would a decorated war hero, a former political leader, and ex-mayor – Mitzna had been a successful mayor of two Israeli cities, the northern city of Haifa and Yeruham in the southern Negev desert – physically volunteer one day a week to help the very people who think him an enemy.”
Only in Israel!
“Where We Come In”
Amram Mitza volunteers for an organization called, ‘Road to Recovery’, that has over 600 Israeli volunteers from all walks of life who drive Palestinians undergoing medical treatment in Israeli hospitals to and from border crossings with Israel. “We mostly drive children with severe ailments for whom medical treatments and procedures are unavailable in the West Bank or Gaza. For these children and their family guardians, logistics and travel costs to Israeli hospitals are prohibitive, particularly for patients requiring regular and recurring treatment, so this is where we come in and drive them free of charge to the designated hospital,” explains Mitzna.
Taking The High Road
Every Monday morning, long before most Israelis have woken for school or work, this man in his seventies who could have been Israel’s Prime Minister, is already in his car driving to the Erez Crossing located at the northern end of the Gaza Strip on the border with Israel.
“My beat is collecting the patient and his family from the checkpoint in Gaza and driving them to a hospital in Jerusalem.”
In addition to ferrying Palestinian patients to hospitals across Israel, Road to Recovery assist those Palestinians with limited means to acquire specialized outpatient medical equipment.
“Although I volunteer as a driver, there are others that organize special rehabilitation and retreat days for Palestinian patients and their families at Israeli recreation facilities,” says Mitzna. One such facility is the Lower Galilee ‘Jordan River Village’, a unique camp for children living with chronic, serious, or life-threatening illnesses and disorders. Officially opened in 2011 with acclaimed actor Chaim Topol as Chairman, the Village offers fun and medically safe experiences to all children living with serious or chronic illnesses in Israel at no cost to their family.
The only programme of its kind in the Middle East, the Jordan River Village invites children between the ages 9-18 with a wide range of illnesses – including Cancer, Cerebral Palsy, Crone’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Epilepsy, Heart & Cardiovascular Diseases, Juvenile Diabetes and kidney and liver transplants – to participate in medically supervised recreational activities.
When the camp first opened, the Hamas Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip refused to allow the children who had been undergoing treatment in Israel to attend. Their attitude was:
“Treatment, yes; a fun vacation, no.”
Road to Recovery turned to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who had experience in negotiating with Hamas, notably his role in securing the release of Gilad Shalit in 2011. “We asked him to explain that these are very sick children who won’t survive the year, to tell them that this is a completely humanitarian mission, with no politics involved,” recalled Roth.
Baskin spoke to Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad, who refused, declaring “It’s cooperation with the enemy.”
A shocked Baskin retorted, “Do you want to tell me an organisation in Israel cares more about your children than you do?”
Despite the Hamas ban, the families made their way on their own to the Erez crossing and were able to pass through on their medical passes. The following year, Road to Recovery presented the camp as “medical treatment” and not “fun and games,” so the process went smoothly, and children from Gaza attended the camp.
Since the founding of Road to Discovery over 8 years ago, “it has brought about an estimated 40,000 person-hours of interaction between Palestinians and Israelis,” says Mitzna, “thereby forging personal bonds in the context of every-day life.”
Road to Recovery is as much “about the recovery of mutual respect, trust, dialog and friendship among Israelis and Palestinians as it is about the physical recovery of individual patients,” says Mitzna.
Long and Windy Road
For two years now, Amram Mitzna volunteers every Monday. “I wake up at 5.00 am, drive from Tel Aviv before the early heavy morning traffic to the Erez Crossing on the border with Gaza, where I pick up my young patient and members of his or her family, and drive them across the width of the country to a hospital in Jerusalem. Mostly it’s Hadassah Medial Center or sometimes hospitals in east Jerusalem. It’s usually about a three-hour roundtrip.” Mitzna does not have to wait, as another volunteer from the Jerusalem area will drive the family back to Gaza after the medical treatment or operation. Similarly, “If a Palestinian patient from the West Bank is brought for specialized treatment at a hospital in Tel Aviv, I could then be called upon to drive them back,” says Mitzna. There are on-line coordinators in regions across the country organizing volunteer drivers, like Mitzna, to pick-up, take and return Palestinian patients.
He cites other volunteers like “my two sisters, who introduced me to the project” and a well-known public prosecutor. He notes that “last year we – that is Israeli drivers and Palestinian families – collectively covered 30,000 kilometers together; that is 30,000 kilometers on the road towards peace.”
Hardly politically naïve, Mitzna admits “I know it will not bring peace as such. However, it does bring more understanding between ordinary people. Peace agreements are signed between leaders, not the people they represent, and you have to always wonder – are the people behind it?”
Too often, asserts Mitzna, “mistrust remains, and agreements fail to bring people together. On the other hand, a project like Road to Recovery that operates below or maybe ‘above’ politics can ‘drive’ people from across the divide together.”
It proves, asserts Mitzna that “ordinary people can succeed where politicians fail.”
“How did this project come about?” I asked the former general and politician.
“The brainchild of a very special man, Yuval Roth, who had the ability to transcend personal tragedy and channel his grief into something positive, enriching and an example to others.”
Roth is a carpenter and professional juggler from Pardes Hanna in central Israel. In 1993, Roth’s younger brother, Udi, was returning home from army reserve duty when he and a fellow soldier were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. A few years later, to cope with his loss, Roth joined the Forum of Bereaved Families (or the Parents Circle – Families Forum), which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost a close family member through the conflict. The Forum, made up of about 500 Jewish and Arab families, was established by Yitzhak Frankenthal, a religious bereaved father, who believes that “reconciliation between individuals and peoples is possible and a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace.”
One day, a Palestinian member of the Forum asked Roth for his help in getting his brother, who had a suspected brain tumor, to Rambam Hospital in Haifa as he had no way to get there. Roth personally drove the brother and soon thereafter, was approached by another family in the same village whose children needed bone marrow transplants.
This time it was to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
It then dawned on Roth that he could create a framework across the country that would be a positive step for reconciliation. Recruiting a few friends, he launched the “travel service” network that subsequently expanded into Derech Hachlama – Road to Recovery.
The first donation for the project came – to Roth’s astonishment – from the late famed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen who had read an article about Rambam Hospital that mentioned Roth ferrying Palestinian patients back and forth from the hospital. “That donation was what pushed me to form a proper non-profit organization back in 2006,” Roth reveals.
Another musical giant who supports Road to Recovery, is music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) Zubin Mehta who says, “We are such close neighbours and look at the distance between us in understanding.” Noting how music can build bridges, he spent a day with Eyal Ofek, a volunteer with Road to Recovery where they drove Palestinians from West Bank villages to Israeli hospitals in Jerusalem.
“Well,” remarked the Maestro afterwards, “It was one of the most inspirational days I have spent – EVER!”
To date, Roth’s 2001 nine-seater Citroen van, has traveled well over half a million kilometers helping to save lives such as the 15-year-old daughter, Hind and the 16-year-old son Karem of Khaffia Bajat from the Palestinian village of Azzun Atma near Qalqiliya for their regular monthly treatment. Then there is Mohammed Darajmeh from Luban Asharkiya, near Nablus, who brings his daughter, Amani, 16, who has also been treated at Rambam in Haifa for years. These patients are Roth’s regular passengers.
Without this pickup and delivery service, “most Palestinian patients couldn’t get to the hospitals,” explains Roth. “The family of an infant that needs daily dialysis in Rambam or Hadassah couldn’t possibly manage this financially,” he says.
Roth says he is amazed by the willingness of his volunteers “to drop everything and drive to checkpoints at unearthly hours” to collect sick Palestinians. Road to Recovery gained international recognition when in 2011, CNN listed Roth as one of its 24 “Heroes” for the year. “It was nice and helped a little with fundraising but not much more,” expressed the modest carpenter. “At the end, the feeling that we did something that really helped is more significant than any award or publicity.”
Some 450 Palestinian families from the West Bank and Gaza are served by Road to Recovery. Some patients come every day, some every few months. Most are children with many travelling to be treated for cancer.
Like Mitzna, another volunteer driver is Anita Steiner a retired social worker.
She’s been transporting patients from the Erez checkpoint at the northern tip of Gaza for almost a year to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba and to Hadassah Ein Kerem or Augusta Victoria hospitals in Jerusalem. Expressing a similar sentiment to the former general, this social worker says, “I’m drawn to the fact that no politics are involved; just human acts of kindness.”
The Right Road
So, despite the increasing terror from Gaza with arson kites and incendiary balloons setting Israeli land ablaze, Amram Mitzna continues to keep his hands firmly on his steering wheel transporting Palestinians patients to hospitals in Jerusalem.
Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ invites the reader to ponder: “Yes, we chose this road, but what if we chose the other?”
There is no such doubt in the minds of the drivers of Road to Recovery.
“We’re on the right road,” says Amran Mitzna.
Next Monday, all being well, “I will be at the Eretz checkpoint picking up a Palestinian family from Gaza.”