Victory for Healthcare in Northern Israel

While some hospitals segregate Jewish and Arab mothers in maternity wards (see story) Shatil’s Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee does just the opposite: it brings Jewish and Arab Israelis together to improve the dismal state of health services in northern Israel.

Last week’s second annual Galilee Conference on Health Equality, a major event sponsored by the Shatil Citizens’ Forum, brought excellent news: Dr. Adi Sasson, head of rehabilitation for the Ministry of Health, announced government plans to open an inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation department at the Galilee’s Poriya hospital. This a significant victory for health services in northern Israel, as there is currently only one inpatient rehabilitation facility in the area, with just 39 beds at the Nahariya Hospital, for a region of 1.3 million people.

The conference was hosted by the Shfar’am Municipality – a major breakthrough in of itself, as events of this size and scope are rarely held in Arab towns.

“We fought for this [rehabilitation centre],” said Shatil’s Forum coordinator, Lev Aran. “There is no outpatient rehabilitation facility in the entire Galilee and no children’s or neurological rehabilitation services, so residents have to travel – sometimes for hours — to the Haifa area for rehabilitation. As a result, many simply give up on getting the rehabilitation they need, which directly and adversely affects their health – sometimes leading to lifelong disability.”

The bleak state of rehabilitation services in the Galilee — home to a majority of Israel’s Arabs – is just one example of the many health gaps in the region.

The conference drew nearly 200 people, including senior Ministry of Health officials, area mayors, and hospital directors who are pressing the government to address the disparities in public health between northern Israel and the rest of the country. These gaps translate to a shorter life expectancy, greater infant mortality, fewer doctors, and higher rates of illness. On every measure of public health, Galilee residents fare worse than Israelis living in Israel’s centre.

Professor Itamar Grotto, head of public health for the Ministry of Health and chair of the Grotto Committee for the Examination of the Expansion of health Services in the North, praised Shatil’s Forum, “The Forum is very important. We believe in public participation in policy planning and the Forum brings the public’s voice.”

The plan for the new rehabilitation centre is an important step in the right direction. Despite conference attendees’ broad agreement that the Galilee lags far behind central Israel on public health measures, government officials did not offer any policy changes that would address this disparity on the systemic level. Shatil is committed to building upon this victory and finding those long-term solutions that will fundamentally change the way healthcare is delivered in Israel’s North.

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April 2016