A pioneer in the Hadassah Medical Organization’s medical outreach to countries in need around the world, Prof. Dan Engelhard, the soft-spoken head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and the Pediatric AIDS Center at Hadassah, began his foray into medicine through the Israel Defense Forces’ Army Reserve Program. He took a specialized course that matched medical education to front-line medical care, and when the Yom Kippur war broke out, it brought him face to face with tremendous mass casualties.
“I witnessed such inspiring courage,” he said. “Each day we’d set out knowing that not all of us would be there the next day, but we knew we couldn’t afford to lose.” It was this philosophy that he took with him when he was later called upon to help out on rescue missions around the world as a pediatric and infectious disease specialist.
His global outreach began in 1979 when Israel’s government asked Prof. Engelhard to join a medical team that was being dispatched to the refugee camps in beleaguered Cambodia. “It was my first meeting with epidemics like malaria, outbreaks of meningitis, and many other infectious diseases impacted by immune deficiency, secondary to malnutrition,” relates Prof. Engelhard. “Infections in immuno-compromised hosts became my main area of research,” he said. To date, Prof. Engelhard has published more than 150 scientific papers in this field.
The first physician sent by the Israel Government and Hadassah on a humanitarian mission to Kinshasa, Zaire, Prof. Engelhard also headed the pediatric department of the Israeli field hospital for Rwandan refugees, the Israeli field hospital for Kosovo refugees, and the field hospital for earthquake victims in Duzce, Turkey. He was dispatched to Sri-Lanka following the country’s Tsunami.
“When you compare your medical career to that of colleagues abroad whom you meet at conferences, you have to admit that army and national service slow your progress as an academic physician,” notes Prof. Engelhard. “You reach their academic positions at a later age. But service in the Yom Kippur War taught me that you have to be clear about what matters most.”
In 2005, Prof. Engelhard went to Ethiopia and was invited to visit an orphanage where 400 boys and girls were dying from HIV/AIDS. They were being treated with compassion by the Mother Teresa order of nuns who minister to the dying. Engelhard was sure they didn’t have to die. He’d treated tiny AIDS patients, among them Africans, at Hadassah. Thus was born his ART-Joy-Love project, whereby the American government under President George W. Bush provided the medicine and he provided the HIV/AIDS expertise. The nuns made sure the complex daily cocktails of anti-retroviral drugs were taken in full and the dying ceased. To supplement the medicine, Prof. Engelhard founded a corps of volunteer physicians, nurses, students, and medical clowns to bring art therapy and tender, loving care to the recovering children. There are seven orphanages now, in Ethiopia and Uganda. Prof. Engelhard has saved the lives of thousands of African children through this program.