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U.S.-Israel Shared-Value Initiatives: Health & Medicine Cooperation

For decades, Americans and Israelis have engaged in a vibrant exchange of information on a variety of health and medicine subjects including pharmaceuticals, food safety, substance abuse and health promotion. Binational symposia are held every two years, alternately in Israel and in the United States. The topics covered include regionalization of health care; biomedical research; health technology assessment; aging/substance abuse and the contemporary role of primary health care and public health.

Israel is a leader also in the development of medical technology and Israeli researchers have made a number of breakthroughs in a variety of areas of medical research. Israelis also engage in a wide range of joint projects with American researchers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

In 1985, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Israeli Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that provided for the exchange of information and scientific, administrative and academic personnel; the education and training of manpower; conferences and symposia; and, mutually agreed upon collaborative projects addressing common problems. The MOU was extended for five year periods in 1990 and May 1995.

Some of the problems addressed by the MOU included:

  • Planning of health manpower and services;
  • Health services research, including evaluation and assessment of health services, health care technologies and delivery systems, health economics, financing of health services and health care cost containment;
  • Health information systems, including statistical methodologies;
  • Health related areas concerning food and drugs;
  • Public health, including such areas as epidemiology, environmental health, occupational health, nutrition and preventive services; and,
  • Biomedical research.

In 1995, three joint U.S.-Israel research groups worked together to study breast cancer. The scientists jointly tested 858 DNA samples of Ashkenazi Jews, those originally from Eastern Europe, to determine if the group is naturally predisposed to the disease. Based on results from the cooperative research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) planned to launch a series of clinical studies to evaluate cancer risk in Ashkenazi Jews.

In 1996, the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) was instrumental in organizing the Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC) which was signed by the Ministers of Health of Israel, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The Consortium focused on cancer surveillance, information and education. It has assigned task forces on lymphoma, cancer registration and epidemiology, breast cancer, pediatric oncology and quality assurance.

In December 1998, DHHS convened a binational conference on women’s health, held in Jerusalem. Hundreds of women’s health leaders from both countries discussed common issues such as breast cancer, heart disease, working women’s health, and prevention strategies for adolescent risky behaviors.

In 2001, several collaborative projects were underway including:

  • U.S. and Israeli scientists working cooperatively at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NAIMS) discovered the gene for familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) and three gene mutations that cause this disease. The researchers hope to improve treatments of FMF and other diseases where the symptoms include excessive inflammation.
  • The Epidemiology, Demography and Biometry (EDB) program is investigating disabilities in subsets of the Israeli population defined by country of origin, residence on a kibbutz and other factors.
  • The Soroka Medical Center of Ben-Gurion University and Columbia University are collaborating and conducting research on diarrheal diseases in Arab and Jewish children. Their goal is to "delineate the mechanisms underlying symptomatic versus asymptotic infection with Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, and E. coli in children."
  • The Washington University School of Medicine is conducting research "to clarify the genetic basis of the metabolic defects of type 2 diabetes." The focus of their studies is the Ashkenazi Jewish population in Israel." The goal is to make it easier to detect genes for diabetes

In April 2013, the benefits of Israeli medical expertise in helping America was brought into the media spotlight following the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon which claimed three lives and injured nearly 200 others. Dr. Pinchas Halpern, director of emergency medicine at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center, stayed in contact with doctors in Boston for a week following the bombing. "Unfortunately, we have great expertise," he said.  Dr. Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital, acknowledged the day of the attack the help provided by Israeli experts.  “About two years ago in actual fact we asked the Israelis to come across and they helped us set up our disaster team so that we could respond in this kind of manner,” Conn told reporters.

Sources: Partners for Change