The Israeli medical team flew to Japan are working in the fishing city of Minamisanriko in the Miyagi district, about 400 miles north of Tokyo. They plan on staying for a month.
"Israel decided to send medical teams to assist and work together with Japanese doctors – to supply them with more manpower, and specialists to extend the level of care that the Japanese are already giving to the public," says Hadas Meitzad from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
By Rivka Borochov
The first person treated in the Israeli field clinic in Japan when it opened just over a week ago was the mayor of the host town, who was checked for broken ribs.
Arriving in Japan on March 27, a team of about 55 medical and support staff organized by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that the devastation from the earthquake was tangible.
While the fate of their nuclear reactors is still uncertain, the feeling on the ground is that the Japanese have things under control – at least in terms of handling ongoing medical problems, says Hadas Meitzad from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Israeli medical team flew to Japan to help alleviate some of the day-to-day treatment of persisting medical issues, she says. They plan on staying for a month and are now working in the fishing city of Minamisanriko in the Miyagi district, about 400 miles north of Tokyo.
The Israeli clinic is the first of its kind to be set up by any of the countries offering Japan assistance. Israel is a leader in emergency preparedness. The field hospital in Japan is the 12th that Israel has set up for emergency humanitarian missions since it began these missions in 1979.
It is the same hospital that opened up three days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and compared to others on the ground there, it was "the Rolls-Royce of emergency medical care," according to a CBS reporter.
Drop us in a desert and we can work
"If you drop our group in the middle of a desert we can work," says Dr. Ofer Merin to the Toronto Star newspaper in a recent interview.
Despite the cultural differences, and a law that prohibits non-Japanese to treat the Japanese on their sovereign land, the Israeli team sees itself on a diplomatic mission. Joining the clinic volunteers in Japan are aid workers from the Israeli search and rescue organization ZAKA. At the start of this month, the Israeli volunteers found themselves in the unusual situation of working alongside Iranian humanitarian workers to distribute food in a town in North-East Japan.
The ZAKA volunteers had been in Japan looking for survivors in collapsed buildings. When their mission ended, they stayed on to help with food distribution. "It was only while we were working that we noticed the Iranian flag flying over the food station," explains ZAKA’s chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. "After the initial embarrassment on both sides, we all put our political views to the side in order to carry out our shared humanitarian effort."
And the efforts were challenging: A number of converging factors – the massive earthquake, a tsunami and then the nuclear reactor dangers – have put Japan in a difficult position, says Meitzad, who was formerly the spokesperson at the Israeli embassy in Tokyo.
She was appointed to coordinate the humanitarian aid Israel offered to send in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The medical team of 30 Israeli healthcare workers includes 14 doctors who are specialists in areas including internal medicine, orthopedics, urology, gynecology and family medicine.
Treating colds, monitoring pregnancies
"We’ve come two weeks after the [earthquake]. It’s not an event of trauma but more of community service," Meitzad says. "There are some diseases being caused because of the situation or because they are living in more unpleasant conditions than before, and there are not enough doctors to see everyone."
Set up in a parking lot, the portable clinic allowed the visiting staff to treat about 60 people in just its first two days of operation. A few thousand people live in the vicinity.