Health Ministry must spend money to save money

Health Scan: Gov't not really saving by delaying the introduction of new vaccines into the basket of health services.

DNA laboratory 311 (photo credit: iStockphoto)
DNA laboratory 311
(photo credit: iStockphoto)
The government is not really saving money for the public purse by delaying the introduction of new vaccines into the basket of health services. Adding some new pediatric vaccines against pneumonia to the Health Ministry’s basket of health services in 2009/2010 has reduced the number of children hospitalized for complications of the infection by dozens of percentage points, according to experts at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.
One vaccine, called Prevnar, protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal pneumonia that could cause ear infections, meningitis or pneumonia, said Prof. Francis Mimouni, director of the Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital at Sourasky. The rate of such infections used to be 20 per 100,000 children, but in the past two years the number of cases has dropped to five per 100,000.
Mimouni said he was “not surprised” by the findings, as all the studies showed that the vaccine was effective for all groups, including children at high risk of infection. The vaccine has been on the market (and given to US children) for over a decade, “but the reason that it was added to the basket only recently was economic and political.”
Another pediatric vaccine added recently (in 2010) by the ministry is for protection against rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhea and other complications among youngsters. Three years ago, said Mimouni, half of the beds in pediatrics departments were filled in the winter by children and babies with rotavirus complications. They needed infusions after becoming dehydrated. “Today, we hardly see such cases.”
According to Dr. Galia Soan-Grisaro, an infectious disease expert at the children’s hospital, for each child taken to the emergency room with such symptoms there are scores who remain at home. One need only think about the loss of workdays for their parents to understand that providing the vaccines reduces harm not only to health but also to the economy, she said.
Although regulations require food manufacturers to put ever-more-detailed labels on their products, young Israelis do not adequately understand what the printed information means. A new study conducted by Health Ministry Jerusalem district health officer Dr. Chen Stein-Zamir and colleagues, which was published in the journal Appetite, found that young adults’ understanding of nutritional information presented on food labels is inadequate.
“Nutritional labeling of packaged foods, mandated by law, includes details of the food content and composition – information that can affect individual and public lifestyle decisions and health status. We studied the comprehension of food labels among 120 young adults with a mean age 24.1 years attending an international travel immunization clinic,” the researchers wrote. “Each participant was presented with 10 food packages of common local products and interviewed regarding the label’s content. Most subjects (77.5 percent) reported that they took note of the food labels; women, the more educated and those engaging regularly in physical exercise were more inclined to do so. Out of a possible 10 points the overall median comprehension score was 6.0.”
The Jerusalem district authors added that the nutritional table section of the food label was understood the best, and the nutritional declaration section the least.
“The subjects thought they understood the food labels better than they actually did; 43.9% stated that they understood them very well, whereas only 27.2% achieved high scores.”
Thus they concluded that “this inadequate comprehension of food labels represents a missed opportunity to provide essential information necessary for healthy food choices at the individual level. A combination of strategies is necessary, including improving food labels (simplification and standardization) combined with targeted educational programs.”
Dr. Anwar Abu-Arar, Israel’s only Beduin general surgeon, recently was sent to a special week-long training course in England. The 34- year-old physician, who lives in the village of Arara in the Negev, was one of 11 young specialists sent to participate in the Basingstoke course on advances in colorectal surgery. The group, led by Prof. Alex Deutsch and Dr.
Reuven Weil of the Rabin Medical Center, spent time in some prominent London hospitals with leading surgeons in the field.
To be chosen for this project, the young doctors had to have completed their specialization in general surgery and show they are proficient in English. Abu-Arar qualified in medicine in Jordan 11 years ago, studying at the Amman College of Science and Technology.
“At the moment, there is little chance for a Beduin student to get grades good enough to be accepted at Ben-Gurion University,” he said. Nevertheless, he is now a surgeon at Soroka University Medical Center specializing in colorectal surgery.
The doctors were sent to London by the David Yanir Foundation for the Advancement of Colorectal Surgery in Israel and with financial help from the John Furman Fund of the Israel Britain and Commonwealth Association, which covered the complete cost of the program.