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From Negev Desert to Delivery Room
Pictured: Dr. Rania Okby with CABGU Quebec President Larry Nashchen

Montreal - Thursday, March 26, 2015

March 26 was a cool and rainy Montreal spring evening, but the Block Amphitheatre of the Jewish General Hospital was an oasis of warmth and light as CABGU welcomed Dr. Rania Okby to speak on “From Desert to Delivery Room” as part of CABGU's Kindle Your Imagination Lecture Series. Dr. Okby spoke passionately about her personal journey from tribal society to becoming Israel's first female Bedouin doctor.

Using slides that ranged from statistical data prepared by researchers at Ben-Gurion University to candid photos of her family members – her “tribe”, she was able to convey to a rapt audience how she has developed ways of bridging the enormous gap between the Bedouin worldview and modern Israeli society. Describing the challenges of providing medical treatment to Bedouin women, the frequency of birth defects due to consanguinity, and the physical remoteness of many of the patients, Dr. Okby emphasized the importance of education at every level.

One interesting example of this kind of challenge relates to prenatal care: When explained that folic acid is a critical component of prenatal care, many Bedouin women declined to take the pills because they incorrectly believed that they were contraceptives. As an ingenious response, Israel's Ministry of Health arranged to add folic acid to all commercial loaves of bread.

Dr. Okby described how a special BGU outreach program geared towards gifted Bedouin students first exposed her to higher education, and led to an opportunity to pursue medical studies. She explained that her entire education at BGU's Goldman School of Medicine was funded by the Robert J. Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies and Development.

Prenatal care, family planning, vaccination, cancer screening and treatment of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes – all of these issues and more contribute to the challenges faced by Dr. Okby and her colleagues at BGU's affiliate, Soroka Medical Centre in Beer-sheva. The knowledge gained through intensive research at BGU, delivered with cultural sensitivity by physicians like Dr. Rania Okby, assures that Israel's entire Bedouin community will have access to modern medical treatment.

Many thanks to the Jewish General Hospital Foundation for the use of the Block Amphitheatre and for the many ways in which they helped to make his event a success.

To view more photos, click here.

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