Palestinian, Israeli doctors discuss pediatric diseases

Among the chronic diseases are asthma, type I diabetes and other metabolic problems.

disabled child 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
disabled child 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Well aware that children on both sides of the divide have long suffered from the Arab-Israeli conflict, 300 Israeli and 100 Palestinian doctors and other professionals sat, listened, conversed and ate together during the First International Congress on Chronic Disorders in Children on Thursday. Ironically, the setting for the conference, which continues Friday morning, was Jerusalem's Regency (formerly Hyatt) Hotel - where former minister Rehavam Ze'evi was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 2001. The reasons for the unprecedented participation of Palestinian physicians in an Israeli conference were that the Peres Center for Peace facilitated their getting through security at the border crossings, the subject matter is of great relevance to Arabs and it was completely free for those who registered. Among the chronic diseases that affect children are asthma, type I diabetes and other metabolic problems, congenital heart disorders, psychiatric diseases, celiac disease, lung disease due to premature birth, mental disability and cancers. Organized by the Hadassah Medical Organization and Shalva, the Jerusalem center for mentally and physically challenged children, it was sponsored by Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman of the US, who have seven grandchildren between them. The couple have committed themselves to sponsor four more annual conferences on the same topic. The event was to mark the opening of the country's first comprehensive center for the treatment of pediatric chronic diseases at Hadassah-University Medical Center on Jerusalem's Mount Scopus, just down the road from the Regency Hotel. It is headed by Prof. Eitan Kerem, head of that hospital's pediatrics department. Hadassah Medical Organization director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef said at the opening that diagnosing and treating chronic disease in children was complex. Therefore, Hadassah wanted a single convenient place with a multidisciplinary team of experts to serve children and their families. There are only a few such centers in the world, said Prof. Robert Kliegman of the Children's Research Institute in Milwaukee, and the Hadassah center will be a model. "We used to define children by what they couldn't do because of a low IQ, or the inability to dress themselves or go to school. Today we focus on what they can do and then build upon these abilities. This helps kids reach their full potential," he said. Dr. Dan Shanit, deputy director-general of the Peres center and head of its medicine and healthcare department, said that since almost four years ago, its Saving Children Project has brought 4,000 Palestinian children to Israeli hospitals and financed their care. It has also arranged and paid for 100 residencies for Palestinian physicians in medical centers here. Dr. Esti Galili-Weisstub, a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist at Hadassah-University Medical Center, said that the longer the Palestinian-Israel conflict continues, the greater the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among children and adults. She cited research in which in 2001, at the beginning of the second intifada, Palestinian children in Ramallah reported having been through an average of 10 "war-like events," and 70 percent reported symptoms of PTSD. Jewish children living in Gush Katif a few years before its evacuation reported surviving an average of 11.l5 terror events, but only 28% reported PTSD symptoms. Galili-Weisstub said this was "not encouraging, as the Jewish youths unconsciously ignored their symptoms because they were seen as unaccepted weakness. There is a lot of PTSD in Palestinians, but it is even higher in settlers," she said. Dr. Dina Bitar, a family physician from east Jerusalem, said she wanted to attend the conference to learn more about pediatric chronic conditions, especially those caused by consanguinity - marriage by close relatives - which is still very common among Israeli and Palestinian Arabs. "The problem needs a lot of education," she said. "But we have girls who are 17 or 18 and already have two kids, so how can something be done about consanguinity?" Dr. Abed Omran, a pediatrician in a private practice in Nablus, said that Palestinian couples now undergo blood testing for thalassemia, a severe and potential fatal genetic disease when their offspring carry the defective genes. "If they are both positive, they are not allowed to get married," he said, but the Palestinian Authority "does not have the facilities" or the educational facilities to promote pre-engagement genetic testing registries such as that done by Dor Yesharim among religious Jews in Israel. "We have lots of hereditary diseases. Even if Palestinian couples know they are carriers, they get married anyway," Omran told The Jerusalem Post. "And the Prophet Muhammad urged that people marry people as distant familially as possible, not close relatives. It is largely done to preserve property in the family."