As an entrepreneur and the founder of a public relations firm specializing in crisis communications, I have found time and again that crises often carry with them a silver lining. They can open the doors to opportunities that previously seemed out of reach.
When faced with threats, people tend to throw their tired playbooks out the window. Rules that are no longer applicable, are discarded. The coronavirus pandemic has proven itself no different.
Opportunities have abounded for accelerated innovation. A look inside the coronavirus ward at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer make that abundantly evident to any observer. Technologies that would have taken years or decades to permeate the hospital setting have instead arrived in mere days and weeks. Healthcare, and by extension, humanity, will be better for it when this pandemic abates.
And, despite the closing of borders globally, opportunities for unprecedented international collaboration have presented themselves as well including some places you would least expect it. The Middle East is one example.
Three Gulf states have reached out to Israel in recent weeks asking for assistance combating the coronavirus. This is significant; it is half of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Two of the countries, Bahrain and another which has not been named, directly asked Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s national hospital, for help.
Specifically, the countries were seeking to tap Sheba’s expertise in the realm of telemedicine – something for which the hospital is renowned worldwide.
The remarkable thing about this situation is not the request for Israeli help from countries that previously wanted nothing to do with the Jewish state. That has been happening under the radar for years. What’s remarkable is the public nature of the contacts.
When asked on a webinar hosted by the American Jewish Committee, the United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to the United Nations stated that her government would be willing to work with Israel on a COVID-19 vaccine. A few years ago, this announcement would have been unthinkable, as would her appearance on a webinar hosted by a Jewish organization headquartered in America.
According to Yoel Har-Even, Director of Sheba’s International Division, the other country that reached out to Sheba was one with whom Israel does not have known relations. Though they are keeping things quiet, it is clear that the request was made with the approval of the country’s leadership, and that their belief in the medical expertise emanating from Israel is strong enough to overcome traditional boundaries.
The mindset of the Gulf States has been changing in recent years. Bahrain hosted the Peace to Prosperity summit arranged by the U.S. administration with the goal of bolstering the Palestinian economy, despite the objections of the Palestinians themselves. Sheba, as a leader in the region, also attended this conference. Enhanced regional medical ties have been a long time coming, but much like COVID-19 accelerated innovation, it has also accelerated cooperation. Crisis begets opportunity. Some doors, previously closed, are wide open.
Today’s global health crisis has shifted the winds of change, creating an opportunity to bring Israel together with its neighbors in the region.
This collaboration will surely lead to further cooperation down the line. Sheba’s Director General the formidable Prof. Yitshak Kreiss has long maintained that medicine is a bridge to peace. Coronavirus may be closing borders temporarily, but it is also forcing open gates of partnership that will ultimate benefit people in every country.