Russian workshop 224.88.
(photo credit: Judy Siegel)
Anyone observing the three-day Russian-Israeli Workshop on Migrant Health that opened yesterday at the Hebrew University couldn't help but be struck by the warm relationship between the two groups.
A few of the 18 visitors - including Dr. Alexei Bobrik, who is fighting the spread of AIDS in Russia - are very familiar with the Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, as they earned their master's of public health degrees at the school in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem.
The Russians were in Israel to learn about health issues that relate to migrant populations, hoping to benefit from Israel's decades of experience in absorbing immigrants.
The young Bobrik is credited with preventing HIV/AIDS in Russia from becoming a severe epidemic by persuading the country's government to increase its budget for dealing with the disease 30-fold in two years - to $150 million annually.
Eighty percent of Russia's estimated one million HIV carriers are drug addicts, with most of the rest homosexuals. About 400,000 Russians are registered HIV carriers or have full-blown AIDS, but many have not been tested or their condition is unknown, so estimates are that the full number is one million out of the total population of 150 million.
Only pregnant women are required by law to have HIV tests, but in fact, most people who are hospitalized undergo HIV testing on their blood, Bobrik said. Thanks to the increased budgets and manpower he pushed for, 30,000 HIV victims are getting the drug "cocktail" that turns the condition into a chronic disease rather than a terminal one.
As Russia has the second- or third-highest HIV carrier rate among the former Soviet republics, Bobrik said that "migrants [temporarily in Russia] are in greater danger of contracting HIV and taking it home with them than Russians are in getting it from migrants."
The workshop was organized by the Braun school's Prof. Elliot Berry and Prof. Ted Tulchinsky and sponsored by the World Health Organization European Region, Moscow's Open Heath Institute and the Foreign Ministry's Mashav (International Cooperation Department).
The Russian participants included representatives from academia and government who deal with issues relating to the public health of migrant populations. Kyrill Danishevsky of the Open Health Institute, who helped organized the workshop from the Russian side, explained that the focus on migrants' health was a function of their vulnerability to disease and other issues related to public health.
Berry, who is director of the Braun school, explained the difference between migrants, who move to a country temporarily, and immigrants, who mean to stay permanently, and noted that Israel welcomed its immigrants and was very experienced in trying to integrate them into society.
The Russian visitors said they wanted to learn about cross-cultural programs for immigrants, deportation of migrants with health problems, and cultural and psychological problems of immigrants. "We Israelis have much experience, but we don't have all the answers," said Tulchinsky.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post during a coffee break, Bobrik spoke of the year he spent in Israel obtaining a master's in public health. He said he decided to come for a year of study in Jerusalem "to improve my English and because I received a stipend.
"But it was the best year in my life - for the intellectual freedom, relationships with lecturers and students and because it is a beautiful country," he said.