(Jerusalem -- January 12, 2005) -- Prof. Esti Galili, Director, Child and Adolescent Unit, Department of Psychiatry, at the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, flew to Sri Lanka earlier this week to contribute her expertise on the psychological care of Sri Lanka's traumatized children, many of whom were orphaned by the tsunami.
She was one of several mental health care professionals – and the only child psychiatrist – to participate in an Israeli Health Ministry mission, organized at the behest of Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health. She arrived in Colombo just as Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratung stressed his country’s urgent need for senior health professionals, particularly experts on children.
“Our first job is to empower local medical staff to begin coping with the enormous task of treating the effects of a tragedy of this magnitude,” said Dr. Galili, an expert on both the short- and long-term effects of trauma on children, including post traumatic stress disorder. “Many of those giving care have themselves lost family. Even highly trained professionals are feeling overwhelmed.”
In the entire country, there are only 35 psychiatrists, only three of whom are child psychiatrists. At the Medical School of the University of Colombo, Dr. Galili and Israeli colleagues combined formal classes for medical students, residents and senior staff with break-out sessions.
In the time that she has been on the ground in Sri Lanka, she and her Israeli colleagues have concluded that their most important mission is to share the vast experience accumulated in Israel in addressing trauma-related stress.
One of the ways that the Israelis reached out to their Sri Lankan counterparts was by identifying with them, Galili explained. “Some of my Israeli colleagues explained how they lost their families in the Holocaust, but that they, their descendents, are living testimony of man’s ability to go on with life when so much is destroyed,” she said.
The Sri Lankans, for their part, seemed to naturally identify with the Holocaust. “One woman psychiatrist I met here,” she said, “told me that after the tragedy she gave her son The Diary of Anne Frank to read.”
Although Galili will return home to Israel later this week, she is determined to maintain her contacts with colleagues in Sri Lanka by providing e-mail guidance, among other ongoing communication. In addition, she hopes to send them books and materials desperately needed to treat patients.
Last week, Hadassah established a Tsunami Relief Fund that will support the efforts of Hadassah’s medical professionals in Israel who volunteer their services or professional materials to assist in relief and reconstruction efforts.
To donate, please make your check payable to “Hadassah” with a notation in the memo line: “Tsunami Relief Fund.” Send to: Tsunami Relief Fund, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, 50 West 58th Street, NY, 10019. You may also make a contribution by credit card through Hadassah’s Web site at www.hadassah.org.