Starting Monday, African refugees – but not all foreign workers – were barred from visiting patients at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center.

Refugees who are patients at the hospital, husbands of new mothers or parents of hospitalized children may be admitted to the emergency room and inpatient wards if the patient is wearing an identification bracelet.

In addition, all inpatients from this sector at the central Tel Aviv hospital as well as husbands of new mothers, sick children and parents of hospitalized children will have to undergo a chest X ray to rule out tuberculosis. Those who are found negative for the infectious disease will receive a green identification bracelet with their name on it, along with an identifying document that will enable them to enter and move about the hospital freely.

The hospital decided to institute this precaution after a six-week- old baby girl, born to parents from Eritrea, was diagnosed last Wednesday as having pulmonary tuberculosis.

The baby was hospitalized in pediatric intensive care, and her breathing was isolated from others in the room. She remained at Sourasky for three weeks.

The hospital said the risk of her infecting other children was close to zero, but the Health Ministry was informed.

It was decided in a meeting to invite about 100 children and adults who might have been in contact with the infant to come in for examination and treatment if necessary.

Hospital director-general Prof. Gabi Barbash wrote in a message to all Sourasky staffers that as “nearly 100,000 refugees from Africa” have come from countries where TB is endemic and are living in poor conditions. Precautions must be taken so as not to endanger the health of Israeli citizens, including hospital staffers, he said.

Since Friday, all women among the African refugees and their husbands going to the delivery rooms have been sent for chest X rays to rule out TB before going to the obstetrical emergency room. New mothers and infants from this sector will be housed in different wards than other patients.

Older hospitalized children of African refugees will also be isolated in separate facilities.

As TB is not contracted easily – like influenza or the common cold – but requires significant exposure to tuberculosis patients over time, the new safeguards are meant as a precaution.

The Health Ministry said it has been warning “for a long time” about the growing use of hospital care by Sudanese and Eritrean refugees, especially in the Tel Aviv area. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman called on the government and specifically the Treasury to allocate “special resources that will ease the burden of costs to the healthcare system.”

The ministry is “preparing guidelines for the hospitals and is involved in complicated situations that occur, including cases of TB and measles.”

Sourasky’s instructions will be brought before the ministry for discussion and approval, it said.

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