MERC Health Success Stories

image of leishmaniasis saliva swab test being conducted
A non-invasive diagnostic test for the disease leishmaniasis using a saliva swab. This test was developed by a Tunisian research team as an alternative to a blood or bone marrow test for the disease.
Kathleen Rankin

Pesticides and Health Risks: Researchers from Israel and the West Bank are comparing the effects of pesticide residue exposure from chemicals such as phthalate and organophosphate on mothers and newborns in Israeli and Palestinian communities. This team has developed links to world-renowned researchers in their field to ensure that the new results are comparable with previous studies.

Quitting Smoking: A project to adapt and test a smoking cessation program among high-risk youth in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank has led to numerous meetings with national and local education officials as well as NGO, religious and other community leaders. The Israeli and Palestinian partners have published a peer-reviewed article describing their novel protocol.

Reducing Lead Exposure: Palestinian and Israeli researchers identified areas in the Gaza Strip near manufacturing plants where more than 20 percent of children have dangerously high lead levels in their blood. The researchers launched behavior and prevention campaigns in these areas to reduce lead exposure. They are also working together to help ensure that affected children receive treatment.

Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy Patients: A joint team of 28 Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian researchers have developed a new physical therapy regimen to strengthen and integrate children with cerebral palsy (CP) into their respective societies. After the research portion was complete, they established neighborhood educational centers with robust educational programs that attracted new patients and neighborhood children. With the opportunity to learn together children with disabilities gained better acceptance in their local communities.

Heart Disease Risk Factors: Palestinian and Israeli physicians have recently completed a study to correlate heart attacks with established and novel risk factors in Arabs and Israelis. During patient screening, the physicians discovered many undiagnosed or misdiagnosed diseases, most often diabetes, and initiated treatment regimens for study participants. The research also uncovered varying health risks for study participants.

Treating a Debilitating Skin Disorder: A Palestinian-Israeli project on the debilitating and sometimes fatal genetic skin disorder Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) found the disease had a different genetic signature among Middle Eastern populations than originally assumed. Since the disease was different than expected, the researchers found that this form of EB had a different effect on patients. EB is usually rare, but is significantly more prevalent in cultures where marriages between cousins are common. It causes fragile skin, making the individual more susceptible to severe physical damage and cancers. Funding from this project, combined with additional outside funding, also established EB referral centers in Bethlehem and Haifa where people diagnosed with EB go for early intervention and treatment, helping to improve their quality of life.

Public Health and Substance Abuse: Two MERC projects evaluating substance abuse in the Gaza Strip, Israel and Egypt, developed the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) as a standard diagnostic tool. ASI is a clinical tool that helps health care providers assess the severity of addition and also the treatment required. Initially developed in Hebrew, the ASI has now been translated into Arabic and English and is becoming an established tool in all three languages. Other countries such as Morocco are starting to use it as well.