September 21, 2018

Israeli Medical Team Helps Contain Cholera Outbreak in Zambia

A delegation from Israel’s Sheba Medical Center was involved in helping contain an outbreak of cholera in the African nation of Zambia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cholera is an intestinal infection that can cause “profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps” in severe cases, resulting in “dehydration and shock” that can be fatal if treatment isn’t given. It typically stems from food or water that’s been plagued by the infection.

The outbreak has resulted in 77 deaths and a total of nearly 4,000 people afflicted with the illness in Zambia since October, in large part due to the poor state of the country’s water and sanitation infrastructure. Schools and public gatherings were being shut down by the Zambian government in response to the outbreak.

Zambian Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya recently said that the number of cholera cases had plummeted and that the government would be taking “the provision of fresh water, education in waste disposal and personal hygiene and other preventive measures” such as vaccinating the population against the infection, according to the Associated Press.

Dr. Arie Aurgarten, who leads Sheba’s pediatric emergency room, echoed Chilufya’s statements in a press release.

“We have treated a lot of people who were very sick,” said Aurgarten. “The epidemic seems to have greatly subsided; we now only have 75 patients who are hospitalized.”

Sheba’s team, the first foreign delegation in Zambia, had been in the country for the past three weeks, where they have been treating patients at a soccer stadium in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. They also established a lab in the stadium and in Zambia’s central hospital, where they taught people how to use the equipment to test for the infection.

“The team’s established a very, very close and warm relationship with the local Zambia team, which by the way worked excellently on all levels, both on the medical and on the managerial levels,” Professor Elhanon Bar On, director of Sheba’s Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response, told the Journal in a phone interview.

Bar On gave a shoutout to Dr. Shiraz Gefen-Halevy for her role in establishing the labs and teaching the local team on how to operate the equipment in the central hospital lab.

Sheba was first established in 1948 as a military hospital; five years later it morphed into a civilian facility and today it features acute and rehabilitation hospitals as well as research and teaching facilities, according to Sheba’s website.

David Levy, Friends of Sheba’s executive director, told the Journal in a phone interview that Sheba has around the same number of beds as “UCLA, USC and Cedars-Sinai combined” and accounts for 30% of Israel’s medical research.

“You can really see the impact it has both within Israel and around the world in what it does,” said Levy.

The medical center does a lot of humanitarian work globally, including work in Ukraine, Tanzania, Papa New Guinea and Mongolia in the past six months.

“Humanitarian work is part of our DNA at Sheba,” said Bar On.