Arab MKs claim brucellosis ‘epidemic’ and demand budgets

Health Ministry sources: Sector ‘refuses to cooperate’ to wipe it out.

MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL - Ta'al) in the Knesset. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL - Ta'al) in the Knesset.
There was an 83 percent increase in the number of brucellosis (Malta fever) cases last year – mostly among Beduin in the South and other Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, Nazareth, Acre and elsewhere in the North – the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee was told on Wednesday.
The condition, which has killed two people and caused the hospitalization of nearly 600 more since 2005, is entirely preventable by pasteurization of dairy products.
Health Ministry sources said Thursday that they have sent experts to teach farmers and other in the Arab section how to pasteurize dairy products, “but they don’t cooperate and listen, and they even hide the products from us, even though we have made it clear that they are causing themselves to get sick.”
The symptoms of the disease are very high fever and convulsions that may even lead to death. It is passed from animals to humans, usually by eating milk and its products without pasteurizing them with heat.
Not only did the number of people coming down with Malta fever increase by 83% last year, but the number of those who needed to be hospitalized rose by 30%.
In the Knesset committee discussion, MK Ahmad Tibi, a physician, called it a “Third World epidemic” and said that “just in the last six months, 217 cases were reported. There is no excuse for this negligence, because Israel has a very high level of medical and agricultural knowhow.”
Dr. Nadav Galon, head of veterinary services in the Agricultural Ministry, said he had prepared a program for wiping out brucellosis over the next year or two that includes vaccinations, destroying animals with the disease and electronic tagging of animals to keep tabs on them. “We need NIS 100 million to carry it out in all parts of the Negev. We gave sheep four times as many shots as in the previous year,” he said.
When a Treasury official in charge of agriculture said he wanted to wait to see the results of this campaign before allocating more, committee chairman MK Eli Alalouf said it was “irresponsible to wait and endanger Israeli citizens. In other countries, they wouldn’t wait a single day. I will work together with MK Tibi to ensure that the money is allocated immediately.”
A Beduin farmer admitted that members of his community “don’t rush to destroy affected animals, because they are our living.”
Dr. Farhan Alsana, who is the Health Ministry’s official responsible for the southern region, showed a picture of a female camel “who has already infected 14 children. She has not yet been put down.”
The session included shouting and calls to remove people from the room, but the chairman tried to cool things down by announcing that the discussion will be resumed in November, by which time the ministries involved must report on their progress in fighting the disease.