Dr. Bishara Bisharat.
(photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)
Dr. Bishara Bisharat, chairman of the Israel Medical Association’s Society for Health Promotion in the Arab Community, on Wednesday criticized “Arab MKs for showing no interest in the health of the Arab sector.
A Christian Arab and family doctor who was until his retirement head of the EMMS Nazareth Hospital, Bisharat has worked in kibbutzim, development towns and Arab villages.
He spoke for an hour at an all-day conference at the Jerusalem College of Technology, an Orthodox Jewish educational institution, in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood.
“I call on Arab MKs to take action. I am critical of them. I don’t see Arab MKs taking part in the health caucus in the Knesset,” Bisharat said.
The audience, with seating separated by gender, included rabbis, doctors and various other health professionals.
The event was introduced by JCT president Prof. Chaim Sukenik and included the participation of doctors from Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Hadassah-University Medical Center, Herzog Medical Center and Clalit Health Services.
Bisharat noted that improving the health of the Arab minority – which has very high rates of obesity, smoking, diabetes, kidney failure and limb amputation – can lead to better health in the Jewish community as well.
While the 1994 National Health Insurance Law significantly improved the medical condition of Arab citizens, their average lifespan lags four years behind that of Jews (largely because of lifestyle problems), compared to just two years when the reform was implemented. Before the national health insurance system went into effect in 1995, 25% of Israeli Arabs had no health insurance at all, he said.
In the last 35 years, the diabetes rate among Israeli Arabs has multiplied seven times, he said.
Infant mortality among Arabs has declined a lot, but it still remains too high; among Beduin in the Negev, the rate is five times that of Jewish infants in the center of the country, said Bisharat.
There are also many accidents and health problems due to consanguinity (marriage of first cousins) in the Arab sector. But much can be done to teach health promotion.
Bisharat urged the public – Arab and Jewish – to drink water rather than cola and other sweet drinks and to consume only whole-wheat rather than white bread. His Nazareth hospital was the first in the country to bar all empty-calorie white bread, at his initiative, and replace it with more expensive wholewheat for patients, staffers and visitors.
As for fasting on Yom Kippur, a number of endocrinologists, family medicine specialists and rabbis debated the question of who should be allowed to fast on Yom Kippur and for whom it would be very dangerous due to hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, clotting disorders and more.A Health Page feature on the conference will appear on Sunday, September 17.