Sunday, February 7, 2010

Account of an Israeli medic in Haiti

I suspect a lot could be learned about how to respond quickly to future disasters by studying the Israeli team's experience.  Following the earthquake in Haiti, Israel was able to mobilize reserves and have necessary medical equipment and supplies on board an plane within 24 hours. For such a small country, Israel's response was both massive and timely.  Israel21 interviewed Dr. Ian Miskin, one of Israel's foremost infectious disease specialists, just back from Haiti:  
According to Miskin, on a professional level, the team learned much from the experience. "We made plans in advance - some worked out, some didn't. To set up a field hospital was the correct decision. It was the only one in Haiti for five days. We also had a pretty sophisticated patient identification system - each patient was photographed on arrival and had an electronic record of his treatment that went with him."

Miskin has nothing but praise for his colleagues. "They wouldn't set a time when they would finish their shifts - they just worked until they collapsed. We had 40 doctors, 20 nurses and 20 medics and paramedics with us. People were doing things that weren't their job - when the eye doctor finished treating his patients he manned the gate. Everyone helped each other. People were looking out for each other all the time, seeing who needs help."
The operation monitored the team's mental health status, explained Miskin: 
 He notes the importance that was attached to maintaining the team's health - both physical and psychological, so that its members would have the strength to give their all. "We had a psychiatrist and psychologist with us - we all needed that help. There was a huge amount of stress - and remember, many of the group were 20-year-olds. We just worked until we dropped. I've never seen anything like it. There was a huge amount of pressure on every member of staff."
Miskin added that they set up a three person medical ethics committee to make the difficult decisions about who should get priority treatment.

More accounts of Haiti earthquake rescue effort collected here.


  1. A lot more Cuban medics were there and stayed. Which has led to some debate as to the motivations, not of the IDF medical team but of the government who sent them.

  2. Interesting that you mention the Cubans. I had not read or seen any mention in any US media source about Cuba's assistance to Haiti. What an appalling omission, considering the scale and speed of with which Cubans mobilized.

    With respect to disaster relief, I think effectiveness of action matters above all else, questions about motivation far less relevant (as even one individual's true motives can be hard to pin down); and so with earthquakes speed of response matters above all else. By this criteria, only the Cubans and Médecins Sans Frontières compare, and these groups were already operating nearby. Also, it's true the Israelis went home, but only after many more field hospitals -- with fresh staff and supplies -- had been set up.


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