Study: FSU immigrants neglect their health

Kadima MK Marina Solodkin says low self-reported health compared to other newcomers is due to overwork.

Immigrants from the former Soviet Union neglect their health because they overwork, Kadima MK Marina Solodkin said after a National Health Survey showed that the self-reported health of these immigrants is lower than those of other newcomers. When asked, 16 percent of Soviet immigrants reported their physical health as good or excellent while other immigrant groups reported a stronger 37-79 percent, according to the 2003-2004 report, recently released by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). The survey lists a number of diseases and conditions specifically having higher rates among former USSR immigrants including, respiratory disorders, as well as kidney and neurological diseases. Yael Natan, spokesperson for CBS, told The Jerusalem Post that there are few discrepancies between the results of this survey and those in the past. Lia Shemtov, an MK for Israel Beitenu and an immigrant from the former USSR, commented that those immigrants find themselves at the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum. "Their lives in the former USSR were not so high and they come to Israel with nothing - no money and no property. And here in Israel, they start everything from the beginning without the language. Other immigrants come with English and some even with Hebrew," said Shemtov. These immigrants must compensate for these disadvantages with hard work. Solodkin, a former deputy immigration minister, attributes the lower health rates to the fact that "they are thinking about work and housing. They are not thinking about their health. The questions of work and housing sometimes have to be second and third, and health has to be first. They are overworking themselves," commented Solodkin. Solodkin said that to combat the problems of neglected health, "the Ministry of Health and health funds have to work with this population. They have to explain that in Israel they have opportunities that they did not have in other countries, like having check-up appointments." The Ministry of Health is aware of these conditions in the lives of immigrants overall and those from the former USSR in particular. "What we do know is that education, employment, and housing are influencing factors on health and if these issues are addressed in Israel, it will predict a better health outcome. We do need to give 'added' attention to all immigrant groups as we know that they are more susceptible," a ministry spokesman said. Solodkin was quick to associate lower self-reported health rates among Russian immigrants with the fact that they lived in predominantly industrial and polluted places, which they are now aware could have been detrimental to their health. "They came from another reality and they are more sensitive and more critical. They know they cannot be that healthy [because of their past environs]," she said. Besides comparing different immigrant groups, the survey also factored in Jewish men and women and Arabs in the results. The survey provided a list of different physical and mental diseases and which groups were most susceptible.