Meet Israel’s ‘medical ambassador’ to the UAE

HEALTH AFFAIRS: Dr. Tatiana Zhelninova is taking ‘health without borders’ to new heights

TATIANA ZHELNINOVA believes that if Israel’s best doctors ‘consolidated their forces,’ they could improve medical care in the region, beginning with the UAE. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
TATIANA ZHELNINOVA believes that if Israel’s best doctors ‘consolidated their forces,’ they could improve medical care in the region, beginning with the UAE.
 DUBAI – Meet Israel’s newest medical ambassador.
Tatiana Zhelninova, the former chief physician and medical director of Hadassah Medical Moscow in Skolkovo, is striving to bring Israel’s top doctors and best biotechnologies to the United Arab Emirates, thereby improving healthcare in the region.
“For doctors, nurses and medical professors, nationality and race are not important,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday during its Global Investment Forum in Dubai. “What is very important is who you are, what you are doing and with whom.
“I want to be Israel’s ambassador for medicine in this country,” she said.
Zhelninova, who is not Jewish and lives in the former Soviet Union, recently launched Medcurator with the goal of building government-regulated centers of excellence in the UAE that can harness the brains and biotechnology of the Jewish state for the benefit of one of its newest allies.
Medcurator was formed in partnership with Israel-based Health Plus, which is the international marketing arm of Hadassah Hospital, and under the trusteeship of the UAE-Israel Business Council. The council was established by business and public sector leaders from the UAE and Israel to help foster “shared opportunities, economic cooperation and business partnerships between Emiratis and Israelis,” its website says.
The seeds of a first partnership were planted in February when the UAE’s Zulekha Hospital and Health Plus signed a mutual agreement to cooperate in the field of medical tourism. The partnership has not progressed, Zhelninova said, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, although there is still hope that a formal contract will be signed and additional similar collaborations could be established.
She shared that Health Plus is in negotiations to sign similar memorandums with several other hospitals across the UAE, though she could not mention which ones specifically, due to the stage of negotiations.
Zhelninova’s vision of “health without borders” between the countries, in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords normalization agreement for peace and prosperity, began when she took a vacation to the Arab state in December of last year.
Having left Hadassah Moscow after building it up successfully, according to those who know her, she was looking for somewhere to relax before taking on her next challenge. When she arrived in the UAE, one of the only countries that kept its borders open during the pandemic, she met with medical colleagues in the UAE. She visited hospitals in Abu Dhabi and began to learn about the country’s challenges and opportunities.
“They have the best medical technological construction here, the best equipment and instruments, but the country is lacking medical staff and educational instructors” who can use it, she said.
Among the UAE’s health challenges, according to Zhelninova, are the large number of patients who leave the country to seek medical evaluations and treatment, the opening of new facilities with hi-tech equipment and no one to man it, the need for training to carry out specialty operations such as bone marrow transplantation, and lack of digitization.
She had worked in Hadassah and been to Israel several times, including staying in close touch with several Jewish colleagues from the former Soviet Union who moved to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. This sparked her vision for Medcurator.
This week’s trip to the UAE was Zhelninova’s third since December. She travels all the way from Russia.
The idea of the Medcurator is to unite a top group of internationally recognized professors, medical specialists and nurses – first from Israel and eventually from other countries – from various medical centers to establish “centers of excellence” for treatment, both virtual and in-person. These centers would work within local medical schools and governmental and private hospitals. The Israeli professionals involved would share best medical practices and technologies with the UAE.
Specifically, Zhelninova’s goals are to provide a platform for Israeli medical professions to implement innovations in therapeutics and technology in the UAE, provide and implement IT technology, biotech innovations and clinical and data sharing solutions for UAE’s health ministries, such as are used by Israel’s health funds.
“This new routine includes actions for the short, medium and long term and covers all healthcare aspects of sharing the clinical and operational experience on the one hand, and on the other, day-to-day strengthening of Israel experience in the implementation and development of the advanced technologies,” a presentation that Zhelninova shared with the Post described.
It could also include telemedicine programs and mobile international expert boards.
“New technology demands new competencies,” Zhelninova said. “New competencies demand new educational medical programs.”
She believes that if Israel’s best doctors “consolidated their forces,” they could improve medical care in the region, beginning with the UAE.
BEFORE VISITING the UAE in December, “I had never been in the Emirates and never even dreamed about this country.” But instantly, she said, she became inspired.
“I read the words of the founder of this country, His Highness Sheikh Zayed, on the walls of a museum I visited. This is what he said:
“‘The situation is constantly changing. A friend can become an enemy, and an enemy can become a friend. Life is fickle and changes like the weather or how you feel. We must be ready for the changes coming to us.’
‘It does not matter how many buildings, schools and hospitals we build or how many bridges we build. These are all material goods. The real spirit is beyond progress, it is the spirit of a person with his mind and abilities.’”
Zhelninova said that those words for her were a call to action. She contacted David Berezin, CEO of Health Plus, and they decided to create the company.
ZHELNINOVA’s VISION is in line with the aim of the country’s top health officials.
Dr. Marwan Al Mulla, CEO of the Health Regulation Sector of the Dubai Health Authority, told the Post that the country’s Unified Healthcare Professional Qualification Requirements are more flexible than those in other countries, and he envisions that “it is natural now, since the Abraham Accords, with Israel leading in healthcare, that a lot of Israeli doctors will come here to work.”
He cited the April establishment by Aviv Scientific, the Israeli company that leads the field of research and treatment in the aging process, of a medical center in Dubai.
The center in Dubai is expected to employ 100 staff members and includes a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, neuropsychologists, physiologists, dietitians, hyperbaric technicians, data and technology personnel, an article published earlier this year in the Post described.
Al Mulla said there is a shortage of nurses and doctors in the UAE, like in much of the rest of the world, including Israel, and the country is working hard to attract top healthcare professionals from abroad.
The UAE offers a 10-year “golden visa,” which some equate to a green card, which makes it easier to take up residency in the country.
“We will welcome all specialities,” Al Mulla said, noting that the Health Authority’s strategic plan includes bringing precision medicine, stem cell gene therapy and other innovative treatments to the UAE.
Pluristem, a Haifa-based regenerative medicine company whose core treatment is made from placenta cells, signed a deal in August of last year with Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center to collaborate on the development of cell therapies.
At the Global Investment Forum, the CEO of Israel’s Immunia, which has built the largest proprietary data set in the world for clinical immunological data, shared that it already has an Emirati investor.
“I think collaboration with Israel, especially opening new centers in Dubai, will help us,” Al Mulla said.
Zhelninova’s vision does necessarily mean Israeli doctors would have to move to the UAE. Rather, her centers of excellence would focus on training the doctors already in the country to better utilize telemedicine, artificial intelligence, remote control devices, teleradiology, telepathology and more. In her model, doctors from abroad could also offer this care using these same techniques, meaning by phone or video.
Zhelninova said that she believes science and medicine are the foundation for peace in the Middle East.
“I love my profession from the bottom of my heart,” she told the Post, adding that when you are saving lives “there is no need to fight – it is that simple.”