The University of Iowa

Medical students travel to West Bank

March 11th, 2011

By Allie Wright, The Daily Iowan

Harb Harb has traveled to the Middle East before to see how the health-care systems work.

And now, the fourth-year medical student wants to expose fellow students to those experiences.

Four medical students from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine are planning to travel to the West Bank at the end of this month to explore the health-care system’s hospitals and refugee camps.

Harb, a Palestine-American, went alone to the West Bank two years ago to assess health-care accessibility for Palestinian refugees for his master’s thesis in public health.

“I wanted to translate all of that work that I did while working on my master’s into medical school,” he said. “I created this elective to go back to West Bank and bring more students with me so they can see for themselves and see the services provided for Palestinian refugees.”

Harb, who organized the trip, said it is important for people to see how foreign health-care systems work to compare them with what Americans are exposed to.

“It might be a little different actually going to Israel and Palestine and hearing from people themselves, rather than the things we hear in the American media,” he said.

The group will spend about a month — from March 26 to April 23 — traveling to different Palestinian and Israeli hospitals, as well as U.N. refugee camps.

According to the CIA World Factbook, there were 722,000 refugees in 2007 in the Palestinian territories.

Harb said the group will take a direct 12.5 hour flight to Jordan and then cross to the West Bank.
He also said the group is traveling at a relatively safe time in the area, but if conflict arises, the members will not hesitate to evacuate.

Taroub Faramand, the president of Women Influencing Health Education and Rule of Law, helped Harb organize the details of the trip, and said it is an important learning opportunity for the four students.

“They will learn how [health] issues are addressed in a low resource setting,” Faramand said.

And the students will blog about their lessons from West Bank.

“It’s a great way to tell the story in real time,” said Joshua Fischer, a medical student who will make the trip to the West Bank.

The will update writing, photos, and video daily so family, friends, and others who are interested can keep up with the group’s activities.

Fischer said he wants to go on the trip to “explore the world and find a place that best fits with my interests and skills and see what else is out there.”

The medical students will stay in Harb’s house in Ramallah, so they will not have to pay for rent. A grant will pay for airfare, so the only expenses the students will be responsible for — around $500 — are for transportation and food in the West Bank.

Medical student Michael Bouska, another traveler, said he has been researching about the political climate to prepare for the adventure.

“I’ve heard about [the conflict], but it never really occurred to me to go experience the health-care system,” he said.