Israeli Volunteers Treat Thousands in Ethiopia

The Israeli volunteer organization Eye from Zion is providing free cataract surgery to thousands of people in Ethiopia.

Rachel Hirshfeld ,

Ethiopian Baby with Israeli flag
Ethiopian Baby with Israeli flag
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Israeli volunteer organization Eye from Zion is providing free cataract surgery to thousands of patients in Ethiopia, according to a press release issue by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday.

When the delegation of volunteers first arrived in Ethiopia in February, they were expecting to treat dozens of patients. Instead, they were confronted with thousands of people in need of medical care, who were on the verge of being blinded by cataracts.

“They told us 70, and when we arrived there were 1,400 waiting for us,” said Nati Marcus, Founder of Eye from Zion. “We sent 400 away immediately because there was nothing we could do -- some even had no eyes. But we knew there were about 1,000 we could help.”

After an initial 170 operations in the regions of Debark and Gondar, Marcus planned to return with another team of eye doctors to help those who were still in need of medical assistance.

On March 17, a crew led by Prof. Dov Weinberger, head of ophthalmology at Rabin Medical Center, flew back to the country with representatives from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

“One thousand is an unbelievable number,” Marcus says. “We worked from morning to night with a local doctor from Ethiopia who helped us in the mobile operating room.” 

Supported by MASHAV, Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation, the Foreign Ministry and volunteer medical personnel, Eye from Zion enables doctors from around the world to network and share techniques in order to advance medical treatment for improving sight in developing countries.

The volunteers insisted that a 10-year old girl be brought to Israel for further treatment, after she underwent preliminary surgery in Ethiopia to remove a tumor behind her eye. “Everyone said, ‘You are stupid to bring this girl to Israel. She will die there.’ And I said, ‘No, we are going to save her life,’” Marcus recalls. “She is now recovering. In one month she will undergo some plastic surgery and will get a glass eye. And she is going to recover and we are going to send her home.”

Marcus said he hopes that people who benefit from the training and the treatment will go on to become goodwill ambassadors for Israel and the Jewish people.