Report alleges health service discrimination against Beduin

Some 50,000 Beduin children in "unrecognized" settlements lack the services of even a single pediatrician in their 12 community clinics.

Beduin 88 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Beduin 88 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Some 50,000 Beduin children in "unrecognized" settlements lack the services of even a single pediatrician in their 12 community clinics, according to a report released for publication on Tuesday by the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Women Leading Health organizations. The report, to be presented Tuesday at a conference on "Women and the Rights to Health in Unrecognized Negev Settlements" in Segev Shalom, states that 80 percent of the children hospitalized at Soroka University Medical Center every summer are from unrecognized Beduin settlements, even though they constitute only a quarter of the region's children. The fact that they are not treated by specialists worsens their condition and lands them in the hospital, the report continued. The clinics in unrecognized Beduin settlements also lack obstetrician/gynecologists and pharmacies, even though Beduin births make Soroka's obstetrics department the busiest in the country. Written by Beduin researcher Haiger Abu-Sharb, the report went on to say there was a wide gap between health services in the unrecognized Beduin settlements and those in Jewish communities, even though the National Health Insurance Law insists on equal accessibility to health services for all. There are 214 reception hours by general practitioners and specialists per week at the clinic in the Beersheba suburb of Omer, but only 36 reception hours by one family physician at the clinic in the Beduin village of Algarin, which is significantly larger. Omer and the Beersheba suburb of Meitar have a total of 406 doctor reception hours per week, compared to 127 hours in three large Beduin settlements. Because of crowding and delays, only 55% of Beduin women visit medical clinics with their children; the rest rarely or never go because of inaccessibility, and travel to private clinics or Soroka instead. The report said that some of the women had to walk with their children for two hours to take them to the clinics, most of which are owned and run by the Health Ministry or Clalit Health Services. The report quoted the Health Ministry as saying that its primary care clinics in the area provided "suitable professional care" for the children. Clalit described pediatric care in the community as primary care and not specialist care, and said that general practitioners in its clinics were experienced in examining and treating children as well as adults. Abu-Sharb concluded that Beduin living even in unrecognized settlements were "nevertheless Israeli citizens insured by the health funds and entitled to the same health services as other Israelis. Our report proves that there is discrimination against Beduins built into the system." When asked to comment, Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Greenbaum said that while health funds were responsible for providing health services, the ministry was "aware of manpower shortages and is acting in cooperation with the health funds to reduce the gaps." Greenbaum added that a survey published a month ago on the health of pre-school children in the Beduin community showed that their health had improved, that the infant mortality rate had declined, and that the immunization rate had risen. The ministry and other authorities "are giving incentive pay to nurses who work or will work in the Beduin community," she concluded.