The Israel Medical Association congratulated Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday for announcing his final decision against the privatization of Tipat Halav (family health) centers around the country - and even to increase their budgets. IMA chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar said that if the privatization process (such as that in the school health services) were implemented, it would significantly harm Israel's children. "We should learn from the sad experience of other countries that privatized preventive medicine and paid a very heavy price," Blachar said. He added that Tipat Halav stations, which used to offer more services, such as home visits for all new mothers, have been desperate for money since the Treasury "dried up" financial resources and aimed to privatize them. Tipat Halav services were initiated by the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America more than 90 years ago when Henrietta Szold sent nurses to bring milk to the poverty-stricken infants of Jerusalem, and it has been a model for similar services around the world. Blachar thanked the Israel Pediatric Society and the Israel Public Health Society, which joined the IMA's struggle against Tipat Halav privatization, along with the National Council for the Child and MKs Shelly Yacimovich, Haim Oron, Moshe Gafni, Dov Hanin, Ran Cohen and former MK Tamar Gozansky. Olmert made his announcement halting the privatization process on Tuesday. "Tipat Halav stations are one of the few state services that the government grants directly to citizens in the best possible way, better than private bodies can," he said. Olmert added that the family health centers should offer services beyond the vaccinations and monitoring of children from birth to age six and monitoring of pregnant women, for which annual fees are paid. Transferring the services to the four health funds, Olmert added, would be fiscally efficient but would provide poorer service. (Tipat Halav services are provided by the municipalities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and some health funds already provide them in certain localities to their members.) Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri welcomed the decision and said there was no justification for taking the stations out of the state's hands. It was agreed that the Health Ministry would receive an additional budget allocation in 2008 to cover the costs. Neither Olmert nor Ben-Yizri said whether the fees would be cancelled, as health experts have recommended for years as an inducement for parents to use the Tipat Halav stations.