Israelis opening eyes in Uzbekistan – Literally

Friday, January 05, 2007 |  by Staff Writer
The gift of sight is one which most of us often take for granted. But for a group of 105 elderly Uzbeks, this gift was long gone – until two Israeli doctors arrived and gave it back to them.

“Thank Allah and the Israeli doctors,” was just one of the praises uttered by the group treated by two Israeli eye doctors in the central Asia Muslim nation of Uzbekistan.

The two doctors were sent by the MASHAV center for international development in the Foreign Ministry to treat patients suffering from severe cataract. The doctors were able to bring back the eyesight of most of the patients they operated on during their mission, several of them suffering from complete blindness.

The scenes in the clinic were utterly moving. Elderly people, who have been under a veil of blindness for several years because there was no one to treat them, suddenly saw the light of day. “You are our angels. You brought back the light,” said one of the tearful patients operated on by the doctors.

Dr. Dan Zaks and Dr. Emanuel Schwalve of Shiba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer were sent to Uzbekistan for this humanitarian mission. During the mission, they both conducted dozens of eye operations in the clinic they worked at in the city of Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, a province about one-third the size of the country, formerly a Soviet republic.

Eye camps are just one of five training and aid programs in the medical and agricultural fields conducted by MASHAV and the Israeli embassy in Uzbekistan. Most of the international foreign aid activities conducted in Uzbekistan is concentrated in the eastern provinces of Fergana. Because of this, the Israeli activities try to focus on the western provinces as well. These regions include the Khorezm and the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan which are suffering from an ecologic disaster as a result of the drying of the Aral Sea.

The MASHAV eye camps have been taking place since 1960 and include a 10-day to two-week clinic at remote locations throughout the developing world. Recent eye camps similar to the one conducted in Uzbekistan include missions to Georgia, Mauritania, Nepal, and Tonga. The program also calls for Eye care professionals from these countries to train in Israel and provide assistance to the population once they go back to their countries.

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