Israeli Doctors Are First Foreign Specialists to Treat Victims of Congo Oil Blast

Government agency sends 4 doctors and a nurse from the Sheba Medical Center to the area surrounding the village of Sange in eastern Congo.

Bujumbura, Burundi - Two weeks after the death of more than 200 people in an oil tanker explosion in Congo, Israeli doctors will be the first specialists sent to treat the dozens of burn victims who survived the blast.

Israel aid team arrives in Congo
Cnaan Liphshiz

Congolese President Joseph Kabila telephoned the Israeli delegation to the region to thank its members on Monday night, but activist said it was too limited in scope to make a lasting impact.

On Monday, the Agency for International Development Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MASHAV, sent four doctors and a nurse from Sheba Medical Center to the area surrounding the village of Sange in eastern Congo, where a truck carrying hundreds of kilotons of petroleum caught fire last Friday.

“We’re carrying half a ton of equipment to treat 30 injured in two locales,” said Dr. Eyal Winkler, deputy director of Sheba’s department of plastic and reconstructive Surgery. With Winkler are Drs. Shmuel Kalazkin, Ariel Tessone and Gil Gragov Nardini, and nurse Noa Anastasia Ouchakova.

The new arrivals will be working with a U.S.-born Israeli woman who lives in Congo and works with the foreign ministry, Gila Garawy. She says not all the patients are receiving anesthetics in the rural hospitals where they are treated, where electricity and running water are unreliable.

“When I came to visit them I could see their eyes light up with hope because they mistook me for the doctor from Israel they’d been expecting,” said Garaway, whose two sons live in Israel with her seven grandchildren. She also said that she had seen cases in which burn victims became “psychotic from pain.”

Jean-Michel Bolima, a social activist who was born in the eastern Congo city of Kisangani, said: “Any help is welcome and important, but we want to see actions that benefit more people than 31. This is a limited operation. Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable. But it is not constructing a hospital there. Yet this would have made a serious impact on people’s lives.”

Haim Divon, head of Masahv, said that the agency has been supporting Gila Garawy in her efforts over the past year to open a burn-treatment center in Bukavu, near the village of Sange.