Lower Life Span and Higher Infant Mortality


The Civil Forum for Advancing Health in the Galilee initiated a conference to discuss the health inequalities prevalent in the Galilee in comparison to those available in the central regions of Israel. The grave shortage in hospital beds, long waiting times to get appointments with specialists, insufficient doctors and nurses, a lack of rehabilitation services and more, were some of the issues raised by the speakers and audience in the conference.

The first half of the meeting was devoted to projects initiated in the Civil Forum for Advancing Health in the Galilee. Ms. Hadas Ofek, a physiotherapist specializing in rehabilitation, presented disconcerting facts about the lack of rehabilitation facilities in the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights and the urgent need for in-patient rehabilitation services. The Ministry of Health has been approached to resolve this situation, one of the suggestions raised is provision of funding for a rehabilitation department at the Ziv Medical Center in zefat.

The second half of the meeting was a presentation by Prof. Itamar Grotto who was commissioned by then Minister of Health, Ms. Yael German, to establish a committee to examine and present its findings on health indicators in the Galilee. The volatile situation of the government coalition led to the calling of new elections and the Grotto Committee decided to continue to work on their findings and present them to the new Minister of Health, once appointed.

Prof. Grotto, Director of the Ministry's Public Health Services, serves as an advisor to the Ministry of Health management on all matters concerning public health including disease prevention and health promotion. According to Prof. Grotto "Longevity in the north is lower by three years than in the center of the country, while infant mortality is higher". "We are aware of the lack in medical personnel, especially family practitioners and specialists, geriatric rehabilitation, mental health options for adolescents, long waiting periods and lack of technological possibilities which require patients to travel to distant cities for treatment. These are all issues which need to be addressed" he stated.

Dr. Menachem Fisher, representative of the health fund "Clalit" said that the rules of the game should be changed as far as medicine in the Galilee is concerned. The distances are great and the population is concentrated mainly in villages, kibbutzim and moshavim rather than in large cities and therefore the region should be considered as one district where there is no competition between the health funds. The change should come from high-up. The government should define the area as one district in terms of health care". Dr. Fisher added "We send a specialist to see 4 children in the Golan region, Maccabi health fund sends an expert in the same field of specialization to see 2 children and Leumi health fund sends a specialist to see 3 additional children, all suffering from the same problem. This does not make sense. In such a vast area with sparse settlements, it's absurd that the health funds should be in competition".

Former Member of Knesset and current Mayor of the Arab-Jewish city of Maalot- Tarshicha and Chair of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel, Mr. Shlomo Buhbut stated that "the health funds receive 300 million shekel annually to invest in the periphery and no one knows where this money goes". Mayor Buhbut called for the mayors and heads of local and regional councils to join forces in order to demand solutions. "It's incomprehensible that I have to pay the supplementary insurance but there are no private institutes and doctors where I can receive the services I require, these are available only in the center of the country" he added.

Dr. Salman Zarka, Director of the Ziv Medical Center in Zefat agreed that in the North the approach should be different and patients should be able to receive medical services from each of the health funds. Competition between the health funds is correct economically, but this is irrelevant in the north."
"It appears that both Jews and Arabs in the north will always be classified as the periphery, only the Gadera-Hadera region is on the radar of the decision makers" said the Mayor of Sakhnin, Head of the High Monitoring Committee of Arabs in Israel, Mr. Mazen Genaim. "We need to establish a lobby of Jewish and Arab heads of northern district councils and cities. It's not a shame to use the elections to demand that the political parties make commitments in their party platforms to improve health services in north Israel."

In the picture (l to r): Mr. Baker Awawdy, Director, The Galilee Society; Dr. Carmel Shalev, Civil Forum for Advancing Health in the Galilee; Mr. Mazen Genaim, Mayor of Sakhnin; Mr. Shlomo Buhbut, Mayor of Maalot- Tarshicha; Dr. Salman Zarka, Director of Ziv Medical Center and panel moderator, Dr. Mohammed Khatib, Civil Forum for Advancing Health in the Galilee.

Photo: LiorSabo