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Spreading The Best Medicine in the Middle East

Canada International Scientific Exchange Program (CISEPO) Building Bridges to Peace Through International Co-operation

Januray 25, 2005 - Physicians, scientists and public health professionals from Mount Sinai Hospital and University of Toronto have been working hard to bring the best medicine possible to the Middle East by facilitating Arab and Israeli co-operation.

The fruits of that labour are outlined January 25 in an article in the online version of the prestigious British journal, The Lancet, reflecting 10 years of developing and implementing joint Arab and Israeli educational and research projects in the health sector. These cooperative activities have extended a network of knowledge while building bridges of understanding and trust in the Middle East. This program of the Mount Sinai-U of T-based Canada International Scientific Exchange Program (CISEPO) paves the way for enhanced healthcare for children and adults alike in the region.

CISEPO originally set out 10 years ago to address the high-prevalence public health issue of hearing loss in infants and children, leading to the first joint Arab and Israeli professional association, the Middle East Association for Managing Hearing Loss (MEHA). That initial initiative mushroomed into a basic science research program between Bethlehem University and Tel Aviv University studying the genetics of hearing loss, and finally a screening and habilitative program for more than 17,000 Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian newborns at risk for genetic hearing loss.

Gradually, CISEPO has expanded its network of knowledge and professional development into other health areas including the health of mothers, children and young people, nutrition and infectious diseases.

"Our work has shown that it is possible to bring Arabs and Israelis together to achieve common goals under very difficult circumstances," said Professor Harvey Skinner, chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at U of T.

Professor Arnold Noyek, otolaryngologist and Director of the Peter A. Silverman Centre for International Health at Mount Sinai Hospital, says while CISEPO is not a political organization, peace building has been an inevitable by product.

"Our aim is to spread the best medicine possible to as many people in the Middle East as possible in an inclusive, diverse and non-partisan way," said Noyek. "We don't claim to be able to make peace, but if we can build some bridges along the way, even better."

Those thoughts were echoed by The Honourable Aileen Carroll, Minister of International Cooperation.

"In addition to helping improve the lives of children in the Middle East, CISEPO has successfully brought together health professionals from all over the region in a cooperative peace-building initiative," said Minister Carroll.

The Honourable Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Foreign Affairs, agreed. "The success of CISEPO is a testament to the vision of its founders," he said. "Their efforts have demonstrated that individuals from societies in tension or conflict can put aside their differences to work together for humanitarian purposes.  There are many governments and groups around the world that could learn from this initiative. The Government of Canada encourages and supports capacity-building projects, in general, and the CISEPO health initiative in particular."

The CISEPO study was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Global Health Research Initiative.

Dr. John Frank, Scientific Director of CIHR's Institute of Population and Public Health says CISEPO signals the importance of collaborative partnerships, and the need to engage those who understand the context in which multidisciplinary health research can contribute to improving shared goals. "CISEPO is addressing major public health problems and is an excellent example of co-operative global health research in action. It also illustrates the breadth and scope of the health research projects CIHR is supporting to help strengthen and build capacity for global health research in Canada and developing countries-a key priority of CIHR."

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Mount Sinai Hospital
Rob McCartney
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