Can you imagine Canadian, Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian medical students singing, volunteering, and working together to develop programs to address issues related to global pediatric emergency medicine? Such a program was first held in Toronto in 2003 and continues annually. Can you imagine Canadians, Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians jointly teaching and developing solutions, via video teleconference, to address behavioral neurological problems affecting elderly populations? Such an initiative began in 2006 and continues to expand today. Can you imagine senior Jordanian and Israeli ear surgeons operating together, successfully carrying out pioneering cochlear implant surgery on deaf infants, on Jordanian national television? Such a surgery was performed in Amman in December 2003. Can you imagine every newborn baby in Jordan having her or his hearing tested? Such a program began in January 2005 as a result of Canadian, Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian service, educational, and scientific research cooperation, becoming national health policy in Jordan in 2007. All of this and much more are the result of the Canada International Scientific Exchange Program (CISEPO) and its cooperation network of knowledge.
CISEPO is an international cooperation network of academics, researchers, educators, medical, public health and allied health professionals, and students working as a team of individuals and institutions. During the past 15 years, through ongoing professional engagement and dialogue across religious, political, and cultural borders, CISEPO has created opportunities for building cooperation and trust, identifying and sharing knowledge, building capacity, and leadership within key academic and health care institutions across the Middle East, serving as a role model for dialogue and cooperative development in regions of conflict.1–3 CISEPO believes that sharing health expertise, techniques, and knowledge can build a bridge to peace.
Some argue that successful peace-building initiatives should start only after a political resolution has been established. CISEPO teaches that a bridge to peace is not a “bridge too far.” CISEPO believes in harnessing academic theory and medical relationships for three very practical purposes—to turn war into peace, to turn despair into hope, and to turn poverty into wealth.
CISEPO initiatives are guided by a bilevel model for peace-building, which integrates project-specific goals for improving health services, clinical, and population health outcomes with meta-level goals for building cross-border cooperation and knowledge exchange.2 CISEPO started as a Canadian nongovernmental organization to provide continuing medical education for Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian physicians in the field of otolaryngology and allied health disciplines. The priority need initially identified was hereditary deafness, a significant public health issue for Arabs and Israelis alike that is 6 to 10 times more prevalent in the Middle East than in the West. This nerve deafness, a genetic condition, has a major economic, social, and health impact on infants, children, their families, and entire communities in the Middle East. To find and treat disadvantaged Arab and Israeli newborns and infants in a comprehensive program, CISEPO brokered the establishment of the Middle East Association for Managing Hearing Loss in 1998. Today, this association thrives as the first joint Arab and Israeli professional association to address hearing loss issues in the Middle East.1–3 Other successful projects established by CISEPO in recent years include providing residency training for Palestinians in Israeli hospitals, conducting cross-border dental public health research, establishing Jordanian-Egyptian-Israeli-Canadian fellowships on dive and emergency medicine, creating youth social engagement through photography, and instituting the critical study of water pipe smoking cessation.
Building on these successes, CISEPO has expanded beyond otolaryngology to include medical education, public health, nursing, and other clinical disciplines. To broaden the scope and reach of such initiatives, American CISEPO was established as a sister network to work closely with the CISEPO family of programs. American CISEPO is a registered U.S. charitable organization and has initiated an exciting portfolio of cooperative projects ranging from organizing the first Arab and Israeli genetics conference in Jordan to supporting a cross-border cardiac resuscitation training program.
The success of so many CISEPO programs proves that, despite the many challenges, academic health initiatives in conflict regions can bring health professionals together in cross-border collaboration to build mutual respect, trust, and understanding, benefiting all who are involved.
1 Skinner H, Sriharan A. Building cooperation through health initiatives: An Arab and Israeli case study. Confl Health. July 17, 2007;1:8.
2 Skinner H, Abdeen Z, Abdeen H, et al. Promoting Arab and Israeli cooperation: Peace building through health initiatives. Lancet. 2005;365:1274–1277.
3 Blumenthal S, Safdi S, Hoffman B. Peace Through Health: A Mapping of Cooperative Health Programs in Palestine and Israel: A Report of the Palestine/Israel Health Initiative (PIHI). Available at: (http://www.thepresidency.org/pubs/Peace_Through_Health.pdf
). Accessed July 21, 2009.