Magen David Adom
Israel has one single national EMS service – Magen David Adom (MDA), whose name refers to the red star of David symbol. Started as a non-profit organization in 1930, it was formalized in 1950 by an act of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to be the official national EMS. The goals of the MDA are what one expects: provide first aid, collect and handle blood donations and back up the Israeli military in times of war.
The organization grew and matured over the years to be an organization with some 2,000 full-time employees, but staffed as well by about 10,000 volunteers who do everything from helping run blood donation drives to being part of an ambulance crew. MDA’s mandate includes teaching first aid, and thousands of courses are given each year out of which most of the volunteers graduate.
Magen David Adom gets government funding, but also relies on donations from abroad to provide services to Israel’s more than 9 million citizens. The budget has to cover the operation and maintenance of an impressive list of assets including a national call center, nine regional call centers, 1,100 ambulances including 379 mobile intensive care units, 650 first-aid motorcycle units, three helicopters a slew of related vehicles like refrigerated vans for transporting blood and other state-of-the-art equipment.
MDA and the Coronavirus Outbreak
As a single national body and as a non-profit, Magen David Adom was positioned to have the most vested interest and least conflict of interest in providing services. Its mandate to benefit all residents and “perform any additional function” depending on the need has allowed MDA to step up and respond in kind as the crisis first hit Israel and expanded. The epidemic also moved beyond the range of Israel’s healthcare system. Residents in mandatory home-isolation needed to be tested, but rather than have them leave their homes and possibly infect more people, Magen David Adom sent crews in protective gear to their homes to take the samples and send them to labs for analysis.
As the rate of infection spread health officials realized that the need to test thousands of people daily would quickly overload hospitals and clinics. MDA had the flexibility and manpower to open six drive-through test centers in Israel’s five largest cities and in the Wadi Ara region to serve the large number of Arab towns there. Within days, equipment was set up and procedures put in place allowing citizens with symptoms to get tested without exposing themselves to and possibly infecting others.
In a nationally televised Israeli Independence Day commemoration that was seemingly less celebratory amid the country’s coronavirus lockdown, a Magen David Adom paramedic chosen to light one of the event’s cauldron became a metaphorical source of light herself.
Yasmeen Mazzawi, a 21-year-old from Nazareth, has become a point of pride for Israel’s Arab community and, to her own surprise, a role model for young girls across the country.
“The mother of a baby who I intubated and had to ventilate on the way to the hospital months ago [and who’s since recovered] called me several days ago to tell me how proud she was of me to be lighting the candle,” she says. “The reaction brought tears to my eyes.”
For her colleagues at MDA, she’s also validation for the organization, which has been at the front lines in the country’s efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
For Yasmeen, the ceremony provided a respite from grueling 12-hour shifts aboard a Mobile Intensive Care Unit ambulance treating coronavirus patients. Yasmeen and her colleagues appear to be succeeding, as Israel last week reported for the first time that the country’s new Covid cases were surpassed by the number of patients newly declared as recovered.