IDF aid delegation to Japan includes 50 people, 80 tons of equipment
27 March 2011 , 16:44
IDF aid delegation departs for Japan
The Ministry of Defense dispatched a Boeing 747 cargo plane on Saturday night (Mar. 26) loaded with humanitarian aid equipment, in addition to an Israeli Air Force plane that departed with a Home Front command delegation that will establish and run a medical clinic in the disaster area in Japan. Gal Ashuach: IDF Spokesperson
The IDF aid delegation to Japan will set up a field clinic to treat people left without medical care after recent disasters. Chief Medical Officer: "This is an important mission and medical assistance to the area is essential"

Naama Rak, IDF Website

In the wake of the recent disasters in Japan, and following Japan's acceptance of Israel's offer of humanitarian assistance, the Ministry of Defense dispatched a Boeing 747 cargo plane on Saturday night (Mar. 26) loaded with humanitarian aid equipment, in addition to an Israeli Air Force plane that departed with a Home Front command delegation that will establish and run a medical clinic in the disaster area.

The 50 members of the IDF delegation are facing a busy two weeks ahead of them. Their journey started with an approximately 20-hour flight, followed by a seven hour drive from the airport in Tokyo to the Miyagi District in northeastern Japan.

Representatives from the Medical Corps, Home Front Command, government offices and the atomic energy commission will set up a clinic in a rural town that was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami and whose residents were left without roofs over their heads, without vehicles or fuel and without access to medical assistance. The closest hospital is not large and is located an hour and a half away by vehicle.

"A simple mission - to establish a clinic to treat the population in the region"

The delegation will establish a medical clinic in the area similar to a normal health clinic. The clinic is expected to operate for approximately one month. The delegation is scheduled to be replaced in two weeks by new personnel.

Col. Dr. Ofir Cohen-Marom, head of the medical portion of the delegation, said that the members of the delegation came due to their "inability to see a person suffer."

"This is not a life saving mission, like that of Haiti," adds Chief Medical Officer, Brig. Gen. Dr. Nachman Esh. "This is quite a simple mission - building a clinic that will treat the population in the area. This is, however, an important mission and medical assistance to the area is essential."   
On Thursday (March 25), 30 medical personnel of the delegation met at the Tel Hashomer Base in preparation for the mission which began on Saturday night, with the departure of the IAF plane to Japan. The size of the medical delegation decreased during the week due to the request of Japanese authorities to limit the group to 50 people. The Medical Corps chose to include doctor from the following practice areas: surgical, orthopedic, dermatology, optometry, gynecology and urology, radiology and imaging, physicians, ENTs, among others. Also included in the delegation are seven nurses, as well as logistics and teleprocessing personnel who will support the clinic in non-medical fields.

"Every delegation member that will be left behind, is an entire medical sector missing from our clinic," Col. Dr. Cohen-Marom says. "The ones remaining are truly the cream of the crop, without whom the mission would fail."

 No radioactive threat in area where clinic is to be established

The chief medical officer and the heads of the delegation stressed to the members that they will not face any threat of being exposed to radioactivity. The deployment zone is located many kilometers away from the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, though personnel from the atomic energy commission will monitor radiation levels in the area of the clinic throughout the course of its operation. If any threats are detected, the delegation will be evacuated from the location immediately. The participants were supplied with emergency equipment, including special clothing and Lugol pills, to be taken only if ordered. The members were also instructed to only eat food packaged prior to the disaster or purchased outside of Japan. They were also advised to avoid using conditioner that thickens the hair and leaves water on the head for an extended time period.

The participants were provided with necessary equipment to cope with the difficult Japanese winter as well as necessary vaccinations. Simultaneously they began preparing for the cultural challenges of operating in Japan. Although Israel offered aid the Japan on the first day of the tsunami disaster, it took some time for Japanese authorities to accept the offer. The assistance was accepted on the condition that the delegation would be able to function independently without logistical help from Japanese authorities, who are dealing with many other problems.    

The delegation will stay at a hostel in a nearby town and will provide its own food and water.

"Accepting outside assistance is unusual in Japanese culture. It is crucial to note that Japanese culture is very different than that of the West. They face difficulty admitting that they are in need of aid. It took time for them to understand that our offer came from true willingness," explains Col. Dr. Cohen-Marom. Similar to the authorities, the Japanese are people of honor, and members of the medical delegation have been prepared for the possibility that their patients might play down the pain they are experiencing.   
Three translators will join the delegation

The population in the region of the town is mostly older, land-owning farmers who remained in the remote region from which the younger population moved to the center, both before and after the crisis. One of the biggest challenges the delegation will face is communicating with the locals, since most of the elderly residents of the region do not speak English and their Japanese dialect makes it difficult for even native Japanese to fluently communicate with them. Three official translators will join the delegation, and more translators might volunteer to join upon the delegation's arrival in Japan.

Shay Pintov, who joined the delegation as an internal doctor, will serve as an ambassador for the delegation, due to his familiarity with Japan and Far East medicine. Pintov came to Japan upon the completion of his medical training to study local medicine.

"I'm bringing with me equipment typical in eastern clinics, in hope of getting closer to them," says Pintov. "Faulty cultural interaction with the locals might drastically minimize the number of people who turn to us. Although to them we are foreigners, the fact in traditional Japanese culture doctors are considered extremely intelligent and important will be very beneficial to us."

The medical members of the delegation briefly learned about Japan and Japanese culture from a professional speaker who explained how to approach the patients and more importantly what to avoid. Additionally, they took some Japanese classes during which the learned that in Japanese a doctor is called "Isha" and a nurse is "Kongfu" (just like Kung-Fu, that’s how you'll remember it," suggested one of the IDF doctors to his colleague). The medical team received a short Japanese-Hebrew phrasebook, including terms and questions such as "How old are you," "Where does it hurt" and "Are you allergic to any medications."
Among the delegation members are some from southern Israel, including a few Lehavim residents in particular. One such member is Lieutenant-Colonel Orli Weinstein, an optometrist, leaving behind a husband, three girls and an area that has been exposed to increased rocket fire recently.

"Of course it's disconcerting, leaving behind exposed children, and I hope that my husband will manage with the situation," she says. "With that, I'm excited to go. The interaction with the Japanese nation will be an incredible experience and privilege. This is my first delegation, and I imagine that in this scenario that work won't be any different that in a regular community health clinic. Considering the average age in the area, I expect to encounter many patients suffering from chronic eye diseases."