JDC Helps Bring Israeli Eye Care Expertise to Kyrgyzstan

Sam Amiel

– Senior Program Manager

Recently JDC, together with the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s MASHAV Foreign Assistance program, co-sponsored a medical humanitarian mission to Kyrgyzstan organized by Eye from Zion, a volunteer-based Israeli medical organization that provides surgery and training in ophthalmology to the developing world. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked, mountainous, predominantly Muslim country in Central Asia with a small Jewish community numbering approximately 1,000, including 400 needy elderly assisted by the JDC-supported local Hesed (Jewish welfare center).

Sam Amiel, a senior staffer in JDC’s International Development Program (IDP), accompanied this mission, and he captures the importance of Eye from Zion’s work:

“JDC’s humanitarian interventions often involve leveraging Israeli expertise in development when available and appropriate, a strategy that drives our partnership with Eye from Zion. I recently traveled with three senior ophthalmologists, a head nurse, and a medical technician from the Nahariya Hospital in the Western Galilee on an Eye from Zion mission to Bishkek, the Kyrgyzstani capitol. The doctors performed cataract removal, cornea transplants, treated retinal disease, and oculoplastics. In addition, they trained Kyrgyz ophthalmologists and delivered lectures and seminars in their expert areas to hundreds of local counterparts.

I was especially touched by the commitment of Dr. Valrey Bersudsky, a senior ophthalmologist who immigrated to Israel from Bishkek in 1991 and now lives in Nahariya. He was trained at the Medical Faculty of the National Hospital, the very facility hosting this mission. Valery related his profound feeling of responsibility to his former hometown that drove his commitment to perform as many surgeries as possible, beginning early each morning through late in the evening. Not a man of many words, Valery indicated that this mission was an opportunity for him to return to Bishkek and close a circle in his professional and personal life.

In my conversations with many of the patients who were about to undergo operations by the Israeli team, a fair amount asked curiously about Israel. Many wanted to know why the doctors had chosen to come on this mission if there was no monetary compensation involved. Some asked me about Judaism and how Jews look upon volunteerism and charity. To this end, the humanitarian mission spread not only medical care, but understanding and trust.

After the third day of surgery, a young woman approached me with tears in her eyes. She could not find words to express her gratitude to us for coming here and helping her mother to see again. Her mother had severe cataracts; she had waited for years to have them removed but could never afford the operation.

Such was the case for many of the patients: they simply could not afford the operation or treatment they needed. In addition, their illness or condition was often too complex for the local doctors to treat. The oculaplastic doctor from Nahariya, Dr. Kasif, performed a fair amount of surgeries aimed at repairing damage caused during previous operations. Fifteen-year-old Naseekat was one such patient; surgery performed when she was a young child had left her unable to close her left eye.

If all of this were not enough, the mission also built stronger relations between the local Hesed and the National Hospital. JDC had requested that Hesed clients be included among the candidates for surgery, and four elderly Jews with severe cataracts subsequently underwent corrective operations. The Hesed director met with Dr. Medvedev, the hospital’s Chief of Ophthalmology and the host of the mission, who was impressed with the welfare center’s work. The Hesed director, in turn, has a new relationship to refer clients to the hospital for exams and possible treatment.

All in all, the Israeli team screened approximately 500 individuals and performed more than 100 surgeries. The mission brought in 23 boxes of surgical equipment and leveraged connections in the U.S. to borrow expensive machinery for use during the visit.

And to boot, Kyrgyzstan’s Minister of Health received the delegation officially and is familiar with the local Hesed and with Jewish community. She thanked JDC and expressed a desire to continue working with Israeli healthcare experts in the future.”

Sam Amiel is the Senior Program Manager for JDC’s International Development Program and Asia/Africa.

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