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The team from Sheba Medical Center – First Responders in Zambia Cholera Outbreak

The Humanitarian Response Team from the Israel Center for Disaster Medicine at Sheba Medical Center was the first international team of doctors, nurses, and lab technicians to respond to the urgent call for help following an outbreak of cholera in Lusaka, Zambia. Cholera is unheard of in Israel, just like in all Western nations. However, Sheba held fast to their commitment to share medical excellence under all circumstances. Israel is the source of many emergency medicine techniques and life-saving procedures that have been applied around the world, and in this case Sheba brought their assistance and expertise to Zambia.

Prof. Elhanan Bar-On and Prof. Eli Schwartz, Director of the Tropical Disease Unit at Sheba, led the comprehensive medical team that consisted of eight members. They stayed in Zambia for two weeks, helping to stem the outbreak. During that period, the Sheba team treated over 100 patients per day at Lusaka’s national soccer stadium, which had been transformed into a field hospital.

Professor Schwartz explained, “We brought modern laboratory equipment and enough medications and fluids to treat the current outbreak, where 2 out of every 100 people were dying … Cholera can easily be treated with fluids and antibiotics. But it’s up to the government of Zambia to upgrade its drainage and sewage systems. In order to stem the spread of the disease, the government was forced to shut down schools, malls, and even churches.”

One of the first steps that the Sheba team took when providing assistance in Zambia was to schedule a meeting between Prof. Bar-On and the local authorities. This meeting gave Sheba an opportunity to inquire about how to offer the most effective help. It also provided Sheba with an important preliminary assessment of the culture and the local medical and emergency management system.

The Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at Sheba was founded in 2017 with the goal of streamlining disaster response. The center runs courses and programs to train incident managers and medical teams in the best response practices to emergency situations, such as mass casualties and natural disasters. Experts from Sheba as well as national specialists from various Israeli government ministries and agencies (e.g., military, EMS organizations, and independent experts), comprise its first-rate faculty.

Dr. Yitzhak Kreiss, Director General of Sheba Medical Center, described the Israeli Rescue Team’s passionate commitment to assisting as many people in Zambia as possible. In his words, “The innovative medical expertise and tactics employed by our experts are today being dedicated to helping the people of Zambia and saving as many lives as possible from the tragic cholera outbreak … Sheba Medical Center’s goal, which echoes the ethos of Israel, is to save lives and make a positive global impact.”

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