Jewish couple donates $18M to fund Christian medical missions in Africa

Mark Gerson and his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson, pictured in Tanzania, Africa, have been named one of the largest private supporters of Christian medical missionaries in Africa.
Mark Gerson and his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson, pictured in Tanzania, Africa, have been named one of the largest private supporters of Christian medical missionaries in Africa. | Courtesy Mark Gerson

A Jewish entrepreneur and his rabbi wife are donating $18 million to help mainly Christian doctors who have traveled to Africa to provide much-needed medical care to Africans through medical missions work. 

Mark and Erica Gerson have donated what is said to be the "largest private gift ever" to Christian medical missions.

The New York City couple had already been named one of the largest private supporters of Christian medical missionaries in Africa because they had donated millions over the years to help traveling doctors provide healthcare to impoverished African communities. 

Mark Gerson said he and his wife, who identify as traditional practicing Jews and attend the congregation of Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan, have chosen to donate more money to the cause because the lack of access to medical care for most people in Africa is "one of the most significant humanitarian problems in the world."

He said that his family's $18 million donation comes from their personal savings and not funds from the organization he co-founded, African Mission Healthcare. 

"The best investment that one can make, whether in a business context or nonprofit context, is by supporting Christian missionary doctors working in Africa," Gerson, an investor and co-founder of the international consulting firm Gerson Lehrman Group, told The Christian Post. 

In 2010, Mark Gerson, alongside Dr. Jon Fielder, founded African Mission Healthcare — a nonprofit that partners with mission hospitals to accomplish the goal of "supporting and advancing the commitment to provide quality, compassionate care for the hurting and forgotten and to contribute to an improving health system in Sub-Saharan Africa."

Through the various initiatives and work done through the organization, Gerson said he learned that the ratio of doctors to citizens is not large enough to meet the healthcare needs in many African countries.

In several countries, there is one doctor for every 10,000 to 40,000 people.

"The stats are horrifying. … We were able to see over a long period of time the extraordinary work that Christian missionary doctors were able to do with very limited resources," Gerson added.

According to the African Mission Healthcare website, Africa suffers from 24% of the world's diseases. But the continent only possesses 3% of global healthcare workers. Millions of Africans need surgery, maternal care, HIV treatment and trauma-related care. 

For many Africans, treatment is inaccessible due to a lack of doctors, medical infrastructure, equipment and supplies. 

Mark Gerson said the $18 million gift will help fund clinical care — particularly surgery.

The funds will also provide financial support for medical training to allow the next generation of Africans to have access to more doctors and other medical professionals serving them, he continued. 

The money will also finance infrastructure, provide the oxygen needed for medical use and power for hospital housing to allow for Africans to feel more comfortable going to hospital institutions in their times of need. 

Areas in Africa that will receive aid from the Gersons' donation are Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Sudan (Nuba Mountains), Liberia, Burundi and Ethiopia. 

In many African countries, Mark Gerson said there are typically very few doctors trained to be specialists or surgeons because they do not have expertise in specialty areas of medicine and are unable to perform surgeries. 

"The implications of this is that if you're a mother and you go into labor and there is anything remotely complicated, you might not be able to get a C-section. And that's why in Uganda and other African countries, only 20% of women who need a C-section get it, which means that 80% don't," Gerson said.

"If you need a C-section and you don't get it, you will either die in childbirth or you will suffer a number of birth injuries. And this will be with the mothers for the rest of their lives until they get surgery — which she will likely never be able to do because of the lack of surgeons." 

He said that every $250 donated to medical missions in Africa can help fund a C-section.

"This is a woman who is in a difficult moment of labor and with a C-section — which has been around for hundreds of years — she will be able to take a healthy baby home within three or four days. If she doesn't get the C-section, she might die in childbirth, her baby might die in childbirth. And if she and the baby live, she will live decades of suffering from birth injury tears. For $250, one could be the difference between either life and death or happiness and suffering," he explained.

Gerson, who has four kids with his wife, said if a child breaks a bone while playing, there is a high chance that there will probably be no access to a surgeon to provide what he said most people in the United States would view as a "simple repair."  

He said that the inability to receive minor surgical attention for minor injuries often results in a child being unable to leave their home because they need to heal. As a result, the injured child has to miss school for long periods. 

"When you have larger numbers of people without access to even rudimentary healthcare, it's a humanitarian disaster, but it's also very damaging for any other kind of growth or progress," Gerson shared. "It stops people from going to school. It stops them from going to work. And in addition, it causes so much otherwise needless suffering and death."

The lack of access to doctors, he said, is mirrored precisely by the state of infrastructure in Africa. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Gerson said he and his wife received multiple phone calls in which people asked, "'What can we do to help with COVID in Africa?'" 

Gerson said he recalls they responded by telling people that "There are very few hospitals in Africa that have oxygen.'" 

According to Gerson, the lack of oxygen is not an issue that hospitals in the U.S. and other Western countries typically face.  

The Gersons said their donation was also inspired by the multinational investment bank and financial services company, Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), which has agreed to add $2 million to the Gersons' gift through the UBS Optimus Foundation for a total of $20 million.

According to a press statement, $11 million will be available to AMH to expand "selected
high-impact projects." The other $9 million will be made available as a donor match in support of AMH's Transforming Healthcare Campaign.

UBS is currently conducting a matching grant, which will guarantee that any additional donations given by outside donors to fund surgery, training and infrastructure in Africa from now until the end of the year will be matched 100% by their global firm. 

Gerson said he is hopeful that the gift-matching initiative will encourage others to donate to medical missions work.

"UBS has really fantastic corporate philanthropy through their funds and it's some of the most rigorous and compassionate and effective professions in corporate philanthropy in the world. And in discussion with them, we decided to make the gift. And it's the largest gift in Christian medical missions," Gerson concluded.

"It's very fulfilling to give back to others and just knowing that there are people in Africa both now and in the future who will be given care that otherwise wouldn't be. This money is the difference between life and death and suffering and happiness for a fellow child of God. And we are inspired to help through this donation. And it's pretty amazing to know that one can do this to help others." 

In addition to their donations to AMH, the Gersons launched the L'Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service in 2016. The $500,000 prize is given to help the work of the missionary doctors who win the award. 

Last year, a Ugandan-born doctor became the first African-born woman to win the prize. Dr. Sister Priscilla Busingye is one of the few OB-GYN specialists in her region. Busingye used the funds to help transform a local clinic into a “center of excellence” for maternal and childcare

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