What would make a well off Israeli doctor pack up her family and ditch her cushy life in favor of a long-term aid mission in a developing country? According to Dr. Hanna Shapira, the impetus behind the drastic change was a simple desire to help people. The opportunity to improve Israel's image was just an added perk.
A little over a year ago, the Foreign Ministry's humanitarian division, MASHAV, made the obstetrics and gynaecology expert an offer that many others in her position would easily refuse: to undertake a medical-diplomatic assignment in Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific.
The decision to send a medical crew to Vanutau was made in response to disconcerting stillbirth and maternal mortality statistics that registered in the country. According to the data, for each 1,000 births that take place in the island nation, 110 fetal deaths occur. Electricity and healthcare are not offered in most of the country's 80 islands. Where medical services are offered, they are often deficient.
Since arriving in Vanuatu, Shapira has been roaming between the isles on a light plane and a small motor boat, armed with a portable, battery-operated ultrasound machine that was donated by the Foreign Ministry.
The Israeli mission concluded after fourth months, but Shapira decided to continue her good work at the behest of Vanuatu's government. She plans to remain in the island country for two to three additional years, her salary paid by the local authorities.
"The general sense is that you're saving lives here almost on a daily basis," she said. "The medical standards here are completely different. When a newborn dies no one investigates it, and no medical discussion is held. I can't save everyone here, but I can certainly change the lives of some women."