6th International Jerusalem Conference on Health Policy

This year’s annual meeting of the Myers Brookdale Health Advisory committee (of which I am a member) was arranged helpfully to coincide with the 6th International Jerusalem Conference on Health Policy. Amongst the several hundred delegates were a dozen or so from the UK, including some eminent health policy and health services research academics. The US was more generously represented, and we were told by Orly Manor, Chairman of the Board of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research, which sponsors the Conference, in her welcoming address, that in all there were representatives of 43 countries present. Orly told us some of the medical history of the area, including about Sir Moses Montefiore’s physician, no less than one Dr Thomas Hodgkin [1798-1866; as in lymphoma], who is buried in Yafo.

The plenary presentations were mainly excellent, and overall the standard in parallel sessions was every bit as good as other quality international conferences I have attended.

We heard from Israel’s new Director General of the Ministry of Health, Moshe Bar Simon Tov, who summarised Israel’s demography and its democratic system of government. Demographically, Israel’s over 75 population is growing at five thousand per annum. In healthcare, he emphasised the diversity of both workforce and patients, with comments such as the routine care of elderly Holocaust survivors alongside wounded Syrians in the Northern hospitals. He also pointed out that Israel spend 7.5% GDP on health, compared with the OECD average of 8.9%. Israel is clearly pleased to be included in the OECD. Regarding healthcare, Moshe went on to describe the notably short length of stay in Israel, reflective in part at least of good after care, a well known stumbling block for the NHS. He also mentioned data – the largest Israeli Kupat Cholim [Health Plans], Clalit, apparently has the biggest medical database in the world: not only does that offer great opportunities for health research, but maybe it is something to show our NHS leaders, before the next massive speculative investment in Information Technology.

Other plenary speakers included Martin McKee (LSHTM, UK), Patricia Shaw (Herts, UK), Christian Lovis (Switzerland), David Hunter (Durham, UK), Victor Rodwin (NYU, USA) and Peter Smith (ICL, UK). Perhaps the lightest comment was the cautionary lesson about carelessly attributing causation to correlations – Christian Lovis gleefully told us that there is a strong correlation between countries with high chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel Prize winners: did I say he came from Switzerland?!

Between sessions, and even during them, as well as over lunch or coffee, or while peering at ePosters, there were lots of opportunities for networking. The atmosphere was very sociable, English was the common language and there were many new contacts to be made. During a social event at the Israel Museum, for example, I met a Vietnamese dentist who had completed her Public Health Masters at the Hebrew University the previous year and had returned to meet her tutors and other former students at the Conference, as well as to present her dissertation findings at a session.   I asked her why she had chosen Israel to study and it seems she just fancied the idea, and her country had sponsored her to do so. Two young men from the US were studying medicine at Tel Aviv – one of the dedicated courses taught in English solely for overseas students, who are expected to leave Israel when they graduate.

The final plenary session took us away from health policy completely. We welcomed Professor Eliezer Rabinovici, a physicist from the Hebrew U, who has been heavily involved for 20 years in an international collaboration, SESAME, building a CERN-like synchrotron in Jordan. He emphasised the nature of the project, which relied on total trust between scientists from all over the world and, in particular, between scientists from several unlikely collaborating countries – including Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Israel. As he reminded us, at its inception, the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had “taken politics out of science” in order for the collaboration to flourish.

Having attended the 5th International Conference three years ago, I had learned a bit about the dynamic of the meeting and the Israeli attitude to overseas visitors: along with the general good mood and friendliness, there was a widespread assumption that if you were attending the Conference from overseas, unless you had an obviously Jewish name or visible identifier such as a Yarmulke, you would not be Jewish. So, whilst as a tourist I had never recognised this phenomenon, at the Conference it became the norm to bring into conversation that yes, you had visited Israel many times before, that you had relatives living in Netanya {or wherever} and yes, that you were able to read/understand/speak {as applicable} Ivrit – and maybe some Yiddish for good measure. At the 5th Conference, I jokingly explained this experience to an Israeli delegate, whose advice was that I should go and buy a Magen David pendant and wear it prominently around my neck to make life easier for the Israelis!

I am looking forward to the 7th International Jerusalem Conference – hopefully in 2019. Overall, the standard is high and the Conference offers the opportunity to Israel to showcase some of the high quality research being undertaken there, to share the comparative achievements in terms of health outcomes and the inclusion of speakers from diverse communities in Israel, the PA and around the world. I would very much like to encourage expansion of the UK contingent in attendance on that occasion.

 

Fiona Sim

 

 

Published in General News, on March 10th, 2017

 

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