Average life expectancy in the Negev is the lowest in the country and two years shorter than in Jerusalem and Central region, according to a leading health economist at Ben-Gurion University. BGU Prof. Dov Chernichovsky, director of the Negev Health Forum, said on Sunday that Negev residents live an average of 77.3 years, compared to approximately 80 in the rest of the country, and said this was due to the high infant mortality rate among Beduin (7.6 per 1,000 births and twice the national rate) and to the low rate of general hospital beds (1.62 per 1,000 resident compared to 2.5 in the rest of Israel). The only general hospital in the Negev is Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, which is the country's fourth largest city. Chernichovsky said the special needs of Negev residents were not satisfied by available health services in the South. The Negev Health Forum initiates, designs and activates health promotion policies and programs that require coordination of all factors in the area, he said. Including Beersheba in the network was one of the forum's main initiatives, he said. BGU's Health Sciences Faculty will help coordinate health promotion activities with the municipality, with assistance from the Goldman Foundation. "This is only another detached-from-reality research and not reality," Amnon Yosef, Beersheba municipality spokesman told The Jerusalem Post, referring to the life expectancy figures. "It is impossible to seriously refer to new, unrealistic research every second day that more than anything might cause false panic among the residents of Beersheba and the surrounding towns." "This survey is further evidence of the long-standing prejudice against the Negev communities," said MK Avishay Braverman (Labor), a former head of Ben-Gurion University. Braverman, who recently proposed a package of bills to improve living conditions for Negev residents, said that throughout the history of the country, the state had ignored the Negev and failed to invest in infrastructure for communities there. Shelly Paz and Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.