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Exploring public health issues in Israel

August 22, 2013
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Danielle Taubman moved to Israel after earning her master’s degree in May from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. She is now working at the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa in the country’s third-largest city. Taubman blogged about her experiences traveling with a U-M delegation of public health professors this summer in Israel. Here is her summary of the trip:

Danielle Taubman is an alumni of U-M's School of Public Health

When I found out I would be accompanying a group of School of Public Health researchers on a trip to Israel this summer, I never expected a week full of adventure and inspiration.  I had been to Israel several times before and had seen many of the country’s unique and ancient treasures.  But I had not experienced the country through a public health lens. Joining a group of public health professionals gave me the opportunity to see the country’s public health successes as well as the challenges and to identify the many opportunities that could be tapped through collaboration and exchange.

The trip focused on three areas that SPH Dean Martin Philbert suggests are the future for public health: government (the Ministry of Health), the private sector (Clalit, a not-for-profit healthcare provider) and academia (Ben Gurion University). On the first morning, I could feel the faculty’s eagerness about what was to come. And throughout the trip, their anticipation and curiosity only increased. For me, it felt like being in a classroom of bright, inquisitive students — with each question more questions followed. Undiscovered territory led to new possibilities for research, student internships and scholar exchanges.

Philbert called the visit an “unmitigated success.” This was the case not only because the delegation met with well-respected organizations and individuals across the country.  It was because the faculty were eager to establish lasting collaborations between Israel and various departments and disciplines across the university.  It was, as Philbert said, “the level of faculty enthusiasm and engagement (on both sides), the well-posed questions, the quality/quantity of available data to address these questions and the intellectual resources (on both sides)” that suggests a future of “rich and meaningful engagement.”

Bedouin children in the village of Lakia in teh Negev region.

Bedouin children in the village of Lakia in the Negev region.

What surprised me most was the group’s ability to swiftly move from a serious conversation to a debate about the origins of ice cream or the best restaurants in Ann Arbor.

I was happy to see that even talented professors easily joked around and unwound when the time was right. Beyond being purely entertaining, these occasions enabled the faculty to connect with the Israelis on a personal level. They learned more about why their new partners became researchers and what issues are really close to their hearts. It was often in these most relaxed moments of the trip that the greatest ideas for collaboration took shape.  For instance, one evening at dinner two faculty members came up with a research question to address adverse health outcomes in the Bedouin population. They are now working to make this research project a reality.

In true Michigan form, several other faculty members have also already developed ideas for joint research projects. U-M professor Arnold Monto, a leading influenza expert who has a longstanding relationship with Ran Balicer of Clalit Research Institute, said he plans to start collaborative work on influenza vaccine effectiveness very quickly.

Martin Philbert, dean of U-M's School of Public Health, with Arnold Monto, professor of epidemeology.

Martin Philbert, dean of U-M’s School of Public Health, with Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology.

Monto is also hoping that Balicer can visit Ann Arbor in early October to facilitate collaborative work between Israel and U-M.

International partnerships are important because they can have a big impact on local, national and global public health. Philbert said, “Our effectiveness will only be enhanced by partnerships with the organizations with which we visited in much the same way that they continue to be in other regions of the world, including West and South Africa, the South American continent, China, India and other regions of the globe.”

Reflecting back on the trip, I most enjoyed learning about pressing health issues affecting Israel’s population, the diversity of research initiatives already taking place to address these issues and the many possibilities for future projects. I very much appreciated getting to know U-M’s wonderful School of Public Health faculty and picking their brains about their experiences as research scientists and as people. I’m forever grateful to have been a part of this first trip of what appears to be many more to come.

Read Taubman’s other blog posts here.

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