Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Israeli doctor aids tsunami victims

An Israeli doctor, who is part of a medical team that travelled to Japan late last month to treat the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, has created a blog to give people daily updates about the mission.

Dr. Ofer Merin, Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s deputy director-general, arrived in the Northern Japanese town of Kurihara on March 27 with his team that includes 19 physicians and nurses from the Israel Defence Force.

The makeshift clinic is operating in the nearby village of Minamisanriko, which was destroyed by the tsunami. Half of the 17,000 residents in the village were either killed or are still missing.

“The people who survived are the refugees you read about on the news - completely homeless. These are the ones we came to assist,” wrote Merin, the director of the surgical operations at the field hospital, in his first blog entry on March 29.

The Israeli clinic, led by the only foreign team on the ground, provides wards for pediatrics, surgery, maternity and gynaecology, ophthalmology and intensive care, as well as a lab and pharmacy.

“Physicians from all around are coming with their patients for consults with our specialists, for blood tests and x-rays. Pregnant women are coming for ultrasounds as well, as this is a service they don’t have,” wrote Merin, who also updates his blog with videos and pictures.

One of the challenges facing the Israeli medical team is breaking through the cultural barriers and gaining the trust of the Japanese people.

But Merin said that after just a few days, his team is “gaining popularity here, which is a bit surprising. We are seeing more and more patients, and it seems we are turning out to be the local referral centre.”

Merin added that the mission is also an opportunity to show the rest of the world what Israel has to offer.

“We are getting excellent coverage from the media here, so the feeling is that we are on a humanitarian mission while also providing good PR for Israel.”

Merin is no stranger when it comes to working under pressure in the midst of catastrophe.

Following the January 12 earthquake that struck Haiti last year, Dr. Merin and his 230-member crew were one of the first to arrive in Haiti’s capital, working for 10 days straight to see more than 1,000 patients.

To read more about Dr. Merin and his medical team’s ongoing work in Japan, check out his blog here.

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