Tel Aviv University and Johns Hopkins University are collaborating on medical research and best practices. From left: Professor Tamy Shohat, Professor Jonathan Zenilman, Professor Joseph Mekori, Professor Moyses Szklo and Professor Dani Cohen.

For the second summer in a row, Johns Hopkins University and Tel Aviv University officials are
collaborating to study, discuss and research disease and medicine.

The second annual Summer Institute of Advanced Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine at Tel Aviv University, which started on July 7, is under way until July 26.

“The Summer Institute at TAU develops as a fascinating platform of both study and teaching together advanced methodology and topics of the epidemiology of emerging diseases around the globe,” Daniel Cohen, director of the Tel Aviv University School of Public Health, said via email. “Both faculty and students (graduate students, physicians and researchers) use this platform to share their own professional experience and discuss health-related aspects specific to their countries.”

The relationship between the universities goes back to 2001. Jonathan Zenilman, a professor and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, has worked with Cohen and various TAU professors on epidemiological issues such as sexually transmitted diseases in young adults, enteric diseases in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel and the U.S., and bioterrorism and infectious disease preparedness.

In 2005, Zenilman and officials at JHU’s School of Public Health provided consultation to TAU as it
established its own school of public health. Two years ago, Zenilman, Cohen and Tamy Shohat, a professor at TAU’s School of Public Health, established the summer institute, which was first held in 2012.

After a successful program with about 80 participants, more than 100 students, physicians, scholars and health professionals are taking part in this summer’s program, which includes new topics such as chronic disease, tobacco control and food security. Courses will be taught by faculty from JHU, TAU, the University of Maryland, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the Pasteur Institute in France, the University of Ghana, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“What we’re trying to do is try different courses and see what resonates,” Zenilman said.

Thanks to a donor in New York, JHU was able to send four students and residents to the program on scholarships.

The international exchange helps bring a wide range of perspectives to the table. While countries all over the world are dealing with similar environmental issues, there are public health problems specific to the Middle East, Zenilman said. For one, the fly path for the West Nile virus goes directly over the Jordan Valley. In Israel, there are different vaccine issues related to the country’s various micro-environments.

But much like the U.S., Israel is facing high rates of cardiovascular disease, health issues from environmental changes, obesity, tobacco usage and other lifestyle-related health problems.

“To effectively address emerging health challenges, there is a need for public health professionals trained to develop, implement and assess effective strategies to protect and improve the health of communities throughout the world,” Cohen said via email.

In addition to students from JHU and TAU, the program targets physicians and public health officials from Israel and surrounding Middle Eastern countries, as well as scholars, health professionals and students from Eastern Europe and developing countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya.

“Despite the politics, everybody is breathing the same air and drinking the same water,” Zenilman said.

In the future, Zenilman and Cohen hope to expand the program into a study abroad or faculty exchanges for a semester or year, or even joint doctoral programs. But like any program looking to expand, more funding is needed for scholarships and to maintain joint research and education collaborations between JHU, TAU and other academic institutions.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter [email protected]

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