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A world-renowned program for health professionals from developing countries that has been running for over 30 years may close at the end of the academic year, if proposed budget cuts within the Foreign Ministry are made.

The International Masters of Public Health (MPH) at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, which is mostly funded by Israel's foreign assistance agency, Mashav, could become the latest victim of Foreign Ministry cutbacks.

A final decision about the MPH program, and cuts that may affect other Mashav projects, will be made next week.

The program's goal is to teach health professionals from developing countries and the former Soviet Union ways to tackle the enormous problems facing their countries, says Prof. Leon Epstein, director of the School of Public Health at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School.

Close to 600 students from 80 countries have graduated from the program since it was inaugurated in 1970.

Many graduates have gone on to become senior administrators and even ministers of health in their home countries.

Ways to boost funding from abroad, which would keep the program running on a smaller scale, will be explored if the ministry confirms its cuts, Epstein said.

Gerson Gan, director of planning and external affairs at the Foreign Ministry, says Mashav's budget is experiencing a "double whammy," because government cuts are coupled with a final phasing out of funding from USAID, which has provided a grant to partially fund Israel's foreign assistance programs since 1988.

Gan said that proposed cuts to Mashav and the MPH program reflect the Foreign Ministry's "worsening financial situation." He noted that 30 years ago, almost one-quarter of the ministry's budget was allocated to Mashav activities, describing it as a "very important aspect of Israel's outreach to developing countries" which bears both political and economic fruit.