Esteemed Sheba Medical Center physician, Professor Eldad Katorza, was recently appointed director of the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology & Health Policy Research. The institute, founded in 1992 by Professor Mordechai Shani, former Director General of Sheba Medical Center, who currently serves as Chancellor, The Sheba Fund for Health Services and Research (R.A) has, to date, been involved in data-analysis and model-building of parameters in the area of public health trends, with the goal of enabling policy-makers to reach information-based decisions. The Gertner Institute has made headlines in Israel during the course of the country’s battle against COVID-19 as its research has focused on the diverse ramifications in the social, psychological and economic spheres.
Gertner Institute researchers are regularly invited to brief government officials at the highest level, including in the COVID-19 cabinet, and working meetings of the Health Ministry as well as of the Treasury, the Education Ministry, and Knesset committees.
As the crisis unfolded last spring, researchers from the institute updated their models based on trends and discoveries in Israel and around the world, preparing predictive scenarios and graphs. Various critical issues have been addressed with no stone left unturned, including the effectiveness of a lockdown, how to achieve public compliance, how to formulate an exit strategy, how and when to reopen schools, etc.
Other COVID-related matters explored by the Gertner Institute include how to contain contagion in hotspots, such as geriatric institutions and mass events; determining coping skills of women aged 60-80 years old with digital health services and devices; and gathering information about new mothers and infants who tested positive for COVID.
Gertner Institute literature discusses the erosion of public trust and how to regain it, with the goal or increasing compliance for safety regulations. A study by Gertner senior researchers Moran Bodas and Kobi Peleg, proving that compensation for lost wages increases public compliance for self-quarantine, played an integral role in the Israeli government’s financial aid package provided to Israeli citizens in the first wave.
Researchers continue to assist health authorities develop policies — both on the micro and macro levels — that are evidence-based, in order to provide the most effective treatment and mitigate harmful effects in the future.
"As much as we are intent on facilitating the national effort to combating the coronavirus, we are careful not to get caught up in a populist agenda," Katorza clarified. "As a professional body we provide the information, but we won't – and we can't - tell anyone what to do. At the most we can provide insight, and hope that the facts will speak for themselves."
In the two decades since its inception, the Gertner Institute has served primarily local interests, preparing material primarily for use by Israeli agencies. In the spirit of Sheba's vision of innovation and research and development, Katorza plans to propel the Gertner Institute forward, integrating it with the ARC Innovation Center at Sheba, where it will have access to big data, artificial intelligence, and other cutting-edge tools in the atmosphere of collaboration that is ARC's trademark.
"My vision is for Gertner to establish contacts with corresponding institutes and universities around the developed world, to be able to provide research grants for joint projects, to the point where we become a leading global institute and make a powerful impact in the global arena," said Katorza.This article was written in cooperation with Sheba Medical Center.