Right to left: Dikla Aharon Health Affairs correspondent Reshet Bet, Physician with the Health Ministry Southern District Dr. Manual Katz, CEO Soroka Medical Center Dr. Ehud Davidson, CEO Negev Council Yohan Atlan, Rahat Mayor Talal Talal al-Karnawi.
(photo credit: COURTESY AJEEC)
A shortage of doctors and medical facilities will leave Negev Beduin with a serious lack of access to healthcare, a panel of health experts and Beduin community leaders said on Thursday.
“We are facing a crisis in the health sector in the Negev, there is a shortage of doctors and many of the doctors who came from the Soviet Union in the 1990s are going to retire,” said Yohan Atlan, CEO of the Negev Council – an umbrella group of Negev municipal leaders, NGOs, and civil society representatives – who blasted the Health Ministry for “renouncing its responsibility,” and instead blaming “cultural differences” for their health problems.
Negev Beduin have the lowest life expectancy in the country, at around 73 years, compared to nearly 82 years for Jewish population. Beduin also suffer high extremely high infant mortality – each year around 196 Beduin infants die within the first year of life.
There are around 150,000 Beduin in the Negev nearly half of whom live in Rahat, 12 km. north of Beersheba.
The conference was hosted by AJEEC – The Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation, at the Idan Hanegev Industrial Park, southeast of Rahat, the largest jointly owned Arab-Jewish industrial zone in the country.
Dr. Rania Okby, a gynecologist and midwife at Soroka- University Medical Center in Beersheba, told The Jerusalem Post that Beduin women face a lack of prenatal care, adding that many pregnant women only see the doctor when they are giving birth. “Most women don’t have cars and will not go to the doctor, especially in unrecognized villages because there is no public transportation,” Okby said.
Dr. Manual Katz of the Health Ministry Southern District rejected the criticism, saying it was politically motivated.
“The money is already here and things are starting to move,” Katz said. “I understand that there is a political interest to attack the health minister in order to lead to attract more budgets allocations, but the reality is that the health budget in the Negev is growing and the money is here.”
Nevertheless, Dr. Ehud Davidson, CEO of Soroka, said his hospital had not received needed Health Ministry funding. “Instead of a budget increase we add beds at the expense of our existing resources. If the money has come to the Negev we have not seen it,” Davidson said.
At the conference, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh contended that the underlying problem facing many Beduin villages is a lack of state recognition. “To recognize the unrecognized villages would be the best solution not only for Arabs but for Jews. It would be good for the economy, good for education, good for health, good for transport links, good for both sides,” Odeh said.
The state views such unrecognized villages as illegal as they were built without building permits, and is seeking to relocate the Beduin population to planned cities.