Dialog Box

Aiia Maasarwe's Memory Honored

Media Release by Project Rozana

Aiia Maasarwe, a young Palestinian Israeli woman tragically murdered in Melbourne in January 2019, will be honored with the awarding of two fellowships for Palestinian physicians to train in Israeli hospitals. The death of the visiting La Trobe University student made headlines around the world.

The Aiia Maasarwe Memorial Medical Fellowship Program (AMMMFP) is an initiative of Project Rozana, an international NGO headquartered in Melbourne. Its purpose is to build relationships between Israelis and Palestinians through health. The AMMMFP was launched in October 2019 but was suspended due to the impact of the pandemic.*

The two fellowships to be awarded on the fourth anniversary of her death, will address identified gaps in the Palestinian health system in the key areas of pediatric intensive care and ophthalmology Dr Ruba Rizik of the Al Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem will train in pediatric intensive care at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv, and Dr Ahmad Shaheen of the Al Ahli Hospital in Hebron will train in pediatric ophthalmology at Ichilov Hospital, also in Tel Aviv.

Over 40% of the Palestinian population of almost 5 million people in the West Bank and Gaza is aged under 15 years. That cohort is currently served by only 10 pediatric intensive care beds spread across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

The Deputy Chair of Project Rozana Australia, Dr Jamal Rifi AM, said: “There is a lack of intensive care specialists in Palestine, preventative health measures are poor, the overall living environment is unsafe, particularly in Gaza, and there is an absence of paramedic care. 

“The result is a high incidence of trauma and poor prognosis in Palestinian children which negatively impacts the family and the wider Palestinian society.”

Dr Rifi said that Project Rozana has a strategic plan that begins with the training of specialists to help support the development of a world’s best-practice pediatric intensive care unit for Palestinian children at the Al Makassed Hospital.

In the area of eye health, the West Bank and Gaza are served by only one hospital, St John Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem, for all ophthalmology services.

St John has four small outreach clinics in the West Bank and Gaza and there are also limited services provided by private clinics. The PA Ministry of Health is seeking to establish a specialist eye hospital near Ramallah and the NGO-run, Al Ahli Hospital in Hebron is setting up a specialist department, but requires qualified staff to operate it.

There is a shortage of ophthalmologists in the Palestinian health system, only one institution provides training in general ophthalmology, and no hospital in the Palestinian medical ecosystem provides sub-specialty ophthalmology training, including pediatric ophthalmology.

Currently, Palestinians in need of specialist care require a permit to enter Israel to obtain treatment there.

The two AMMMFP awards in 2023 will help to bridge gaps in Palestinian healthcare and significantly contribute to fostering an independent and sustainable system.

Project Rozana founder and chair, Ron Finkel AM, said the endgame is to create a system that can keep pace with rapid population growth, respond to the increasing demand for qualified practitioners in different fields, and reduce patient referrals to Israel and abroad.

The proximity of training to a doctor’s home in Palestine is vital if the Palestinian health system is to avoid a "brain drain" to other countries in the Middle East and to the US and Europe.”

Project Rozana has the support of the Palestinian Authority, the European Union and the United Nations in its efforts to support Palestinian hospitals train their doctors locally. The retention rate is considerably higher.

The AMMMFP initiative also provides an opportunity for shared experiences in the training hospitals, as well as shared knowledge between the two healthcare systems. It creates a network of Palestinian and Israeli specialists in long-term professional and personal relationships, and a commitment to future development in the targeted specialties.

The medical profession is highly regarded in both Palestine and Israel, and the field of health is grounded in equality and mutual respect, making it fertile terrain for cultivating seeds of understanding and inspiring hope for coexistence and peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

“The Mission of Project Rozana is to build better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health while at the same time building Palestinian health capacity. The development of these respectful relationships underpins peacebuilding efforts in the region,” Mr Finkel said.

Dr Rifi said that building Palestinian health capacity is key to building a healthy and empowered society.

“With regard to the fellowship program, we work closely with the Palestinian health system to understand its needs and then respond with a strategic plan to meet these. Some specialties will require up to six years of training, so ours is a long-term vision,” he said.

Following Aiia Maasarwe’s tragic death, her family expressed their strong support for the establishment of a Fellowship in her name, saying that they want her memory and legacy to spread love and hope.

Aiia’s father, Saeed, who visited Australia after his daughter’s death, said: “I believe that one of the best ways to honor Aiia is to make her legacy a positive impact in the world. Aiia would have been inspired by Project Rozana and its commitment to ensure that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza receive the same level of healthcare that we do in Israel. Project Rozana shows that Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together in harmony, and that is also something that was important for Aiia.”

The 2023 grants will be announced on January 16, 2023.

* The inaugural Fellowship was awarded in October 2019 to senior pediatrician in haematologicaloncology, Dr Khadra Salami to undertake a bone marrow transplantation training program. Dr
Salami was unable to utilize her Fellowship as COVID changed priorities at the Augusta Victoria Hospital where she was working.

Media information

The following are available for interview:

  • Ron Finkel AM - Project Rozana founder and Chair
  • Dr Jamal Rifi – Project Rozana Board member
  • Saaed Masaarwe – Aiia’s father
  • Noor Masaarwe – Aiia’s sister

 For further information, or to arrange an interview, please contact Margot Gorski at PR Matters on 0412 393 394 or at margot@prmatters.com.au.

16 January 2023
Category: Media releases