I flew from the pediatric palliative care conference in S. Korea the week of Thanksgiving, directly to another conference in Cyprus (an island nation near Greece and Turkey). I was in Cyprus last week with two other U.S. pediatric palliative care colleagues to teach an intensive pain and palliative care course to the Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC). This is a an interesting group that was formed about 16 years ago to serve the “MENA” region (Middle East and North Africa) through education and collaboration.
MECC comprises Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey and the USA. It was started under President Clinton through an initiative led by former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, at a signing that took place in Geneva. MECC has two major activities – cancer registration (logging and tracking of all cases of cancer and their outcomes in the region) and palliative care. While welcome news to those of us in the field, their focus on palliative care, unfortunately, comes from a sad fact. Most of the patients in this region who receive cancer care are in the late stages (III or IV).
This group has been meeting for years in Cyprus. This year they decided to focus their annual conference/education session on pediatric palliative care (usually their focus is adult). We are doing a compressed version of the intensive pain and palliative care course that our colleagues in Minneapolis offer annually. In addition to the countries represented above, there are attendees here from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and Morocco.
What’s fascinating is the collection of clinicians who are working, talking and eating together, despite the fact that their governments won’t tolerate each other. For instance, the participants from Turkey had to fly first to Israel and then into Cyprus, because Turkey and Cyprus don’t recognize each other and so there are no visas or forms of cooperative travel between the two countries.
On our way here on Emirates Airlines (headquartered in Dubai in the UAE), we traveled an indirect route, as the Arab airline could not travel through Israeli airspace. Travel is also restricted between Israel and Saudi Arabia – having the stamp of one country in one’s passport virtually precludes travel to the other country (or at least complicates it greatly). So it’s amazing to see the Saudis and Israelis able to work together. And if I want to visit the northern part of Cyprus, occupied by Turkey, I can do so because I came into the south of Cyprus first. Had I arrived in northern Cyprus first, I would not have been able to come south.
In the face of all of the political conflicts occurring in our world today, it’s great to see real collaboration. Great ideas and group projects for change across regions were generated during this conference, as participants learned from and shared with one another.