Health improves for Beduin children in unrecognized Negev villages

Mineral deficiencies, low birth weight, lack of vaccinations still a problem.

beduin 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
beduin 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
The health of Beduin children under age six in unrecognized settlements and villages in the Negev has improved significantly, but compared to those in recognized towns there is still a gap in terms of low birth weight, vaccinations, the giving of vitamins, and mineral deficiencies. These are the conclusions reached in a first-ever Health Ministry report on the subject, released for publication on Sunday. The 62-page report, produced as a cooperative effort by the Southern District Health Office, the Center for Disease Control, the Ben-Gurion University Health Sciences Faculty and others, pays special attention to the growing number of children in unrecognized settlements, who constitute 40 percent of the Beduin population in the south. These towns do not enjoy health-promoting municipal services such as regular water and power supplies, paved roads, sewage treatment and telephone services. The government decided a while ago to establish a new regional council called Abu Basma to promote the development of additional recognized Beduin settlements so that more residents could enjoy the necessary municipal services, wrote Dr. Ilana Belmaker, chief district health officer in the South and main author of the report. Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Avi Yisraeli added that investment in health services is not enough to improve Beduin children's health, as more money must be spent on education and welfare, manpower development and basic infrastructure as well. There has been a decline in infant mortality among Negev Beduin, from 16.9 per 1,000 live births in 2004 to 11.5 in 2007. Two ministry-funded projects were established to reduce deaths among Beduin infants, contributing to the fact that there is now no difference in the rate of infant mortality among those living in recognized and unrecognized villages and towns. The main causes (43%) of infant mortality are congenital defects and inherited diseases, most of which result from consanguinity (inbreeding or intermarriage of cousins). About 10% of Beduin infants in unrecognized settlements were born with low birth weight, compared to 9.2% of those in recognized settlements. Overweight of first- and second-grade children was 3.6 times more common in recognized villages than unrecognized ones. Underweight was found in 12.9% of all Beduin first and second graders, with this 2.4 times more common among those in unrecognized villages. A total of 56.6% of all Negev Beduin babies suffered from iron-deficiency anemia, 3% from lack of vitamin E, 5% vitamin A and 9.9% zinc. Fully 90.4% of Beduin children are completely covered by vaccines by the age of five, but there is still a gap between those in recognized villages (94%) and unrecognized ones (87%). Still, these figures are high compared to those of haredi children. Since 1999, there have been no cases of measles, mumps, German measles, tetanus, diphtheria, polio or hepatitis B among Beduin children under the age of five, thanks to vaccinations. There have been only a few cases of hepatitis A since 2001, due to the introduction of vaccine against the infectious disease in 1998. There are still a few cases per year of diseases transmitted by animals to children among the Beduin. The report recommends continued enhancing of preventive services at tipat halav (well-baby) clinics in the Beduin areas and of efforts to further reduce infant mortality and promote breastfeeding and the use of vitamin and mineral supplements.