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The Women's Health Center at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem will be the first in the country to offer medical services especially for lesbians, said Dr. Sagit Arbel-Alon, a gynecologist at the center. The announcement was made Sunday at the all-day World Pride 2006 Health Conference held at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in the city's Mishkenot Sha'ananim quarter.
The conference was organized by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance and sponsored by the New Israel Fund, Manhattan's Callen-Lorde Community Health Clinic for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders (LGBT) and the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. It was a part of the international gay events that were to have been highlighted by a highly controversial parade in the capital, which was cancelled due to the war in the North.
Guest speakers from New York City, Spain and Ontario spoke about the difficulties of LGBT persons who need medical care for disorders and conditions connected with their sexual orientation as well as chronic conditions anyone may contract. Many LGBTs have a higher risk of alcohol and substance abuse and are more likely to smoke and to suffer from depression and eating disorders than "straights," but in the US - where tens of millions of people have no health insurance - they have to cope with homophobic doctors and inaccessibility to preventive and therapeutic care, said Jay Laudato, director of the Callen-Lorde clinic.
HIV/AIDS is not the only medical risk to homosexual and bisexual men and women. Transgenders are at risk from complications from hormone treatments that accompany sex-change operations. Lesbians have a higher risk of breast cancer because they are less likely to give birth and to go for mammography screening, and they also have a higher rate of osteoporosis.
There was disagreement among the panel about whether Israel needed a special health clinic for LGBTs or whether the existing health system should become more LGBT-friendly through education of professionals.
Dr. Itzik Levi of the HIV/AIDS Center at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer (the only public Israeli hospital to perform sex-change operations) said there was no specific need for a center for LGBTs, since "there are enough gay and gay-friendly physicians here who can give good care."
Dr. Amir Mandel, a psychiatrist at Maccabi Health Services who is working on a program to establish a personal physician/gatekeeper for every health fund member, agreed that education of medical staffers about the unique needs and problems of the LGBT community would eliminate the need for a separate health center for their community.
But Inna Michaeli, a lesbian and activist, demanded that special facilities be established immediately, as she claimed that the health of LGBTs was neglected despite Israel's National Health Insurance system. Doctors have personal prejudices and value judgments that may prevent them from giving the best care to LGBTs, she said.
A full report on the conference will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, August 20.