Israeli emergency medical team members carry equipment toward to their base in Minamisanriku town
Israeli emergency medical team members carry equipment toward to their base in Minamisanriku town Reuters

The first teams of foreign doctors have arrived in Japan to treat victims of the devastating earthquake of two weeks ago after the government lifted its restriction on holders of foreign medical licenses treating Japanese patients, according to Japan Times.

However, the health ministry said the relaxation of the ban will only apply to disaster areas.

Technically, it is illegal for medical personnel without Japanese licenses from working in the country.
The first wave of foreign doctors comprised a 53-member delegation from Israel, including 14 doctors, seven nurses and their interpreters, who arrived on Sunday evening at Tokyo’s Narita airport.

They are scheduled to go to Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture – the heart of the earthquake disaster -- where they will establish a field clinic and help local doctors with the initial examination of disaster victims.

According to the Foreign Ministry's Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau, Israel offered its medical expertise early in the disaster. Moreover, mayor of Kurihara, which is adjacent to Minamisanriku, specifically asked for Israeli help.

According to local officials, Kurihara received big financial donations from Israel when another earthquake struck the area in 2008.

We had just received word from Kurihara around the same time Israel offered medical services and we succeeded in creating a match, the official said.

It wasn't like we had left the issue unattended. We had been working closely with Israeli and Kurihara authorities trying to find a way to [send the medical team] without burdening the local government.

Understandably, due to the delicate nature of medical work – in tandem with the language difficulties – finding teams of foreign doctors is much harder than recruiting search-and-rescue specialists from other countries.

Locals [would] be very surprised if a foreign medical team arrived out of the blue, a government official said, according to Japan Times.

It is the same when a Japanese medical team goes abroad — there needs to be thorough coordination with the government, matching the needs of the people and the offers from abroad.

The government is reportedly seeking to secure the services of more teams of foreign doctors and medical professionals – although further details were not yet available.

The government has not lifted the ban on foreign doctors since the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 which killed more than 6,000 people. The current disaster has already killed 10,000.