Jerusalem opens first health clinic for African refugees

Founder: Many don’t have access to health care.

African migrants protest in front of the Knesset, January 8, 2014. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
African migrants protest in front of the Knesset, January 8, 2014.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
The first medical clinic for Jerusalem’s 3,000 uninsured refugees and asylum-seekers from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia opened this week to treat the largely marginalized and at-risk population.
The Terem Jerusalem Clinic for Asylum Seekers is the brainchild of Hebrew University of Jerusalem first-year medical student Roni Ben-Ami, who said she witnessed numerous refugees being turned away for treatment at area hospitals.
“I am a medical student, and as I developed a deeper and more professional understanding of the Israeli health system, I realized that not everyone is receiving the excellent medical care that the National Health Insurance enables,” said Ben- Ami on Tuesday.
“Uninsured asylum-seekers in Jerusalem don’t have affordable access to health care,” she lamented.
To receive treatment, Ben- Ami said patients previously had to travel to Tel Aviv’s Terem emergency health clinic, which has facilities serving uninsured members of the African refugee population for nominal fees.
To create the Jerusalem clinic, Ben-Ami said she partnered with Terem to procure the necessary equipment and to create a management model to accommodate Jerusalem-based refugees.
The Jerusalem clinic – located at 80 Yirmiyahu Street, near the central bus station – opened its doors for the first time on Sunday, charging patients a standard fee of NIS 40 to see a doctor, obtain x-rays and receive blood tests.
“The fee covers their examination and diagnosis,” said Ben-Ami, noting that the volunteer staff of 10 physicians agreed to see patients once a week without payment.
“The doctors are mainly general practitioners, but we also have psychiatrists, and are trying to get more specialists,” she continued. “We also have about 10 medical school student volunteers who are volunteering for free.”
The clinic is also staffed with translators to assist patients during their registration and treatment.
“It is important to say that the clinic is linguistically and culturally accessible to the patients,” she emphasized.
Currently, Ben-Ami said, the clinic can only afford to function once a week, but hopes to expand hours as more resources become available.
“We’re open in July on Sundays between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and in August will be open only on Wednesdays,” she said. “Of course, the asylum-seekers in Jerusalem will need the clinic every day, so we’re hoping to be open two days a week in the future.”
While ancillary funding from Terem allowed the clinic to become operational, Ben-Ami said donations will be necessary to accommodate all prospective patients living in the capital.
“Terem has been very generous in helping us and given us the facility, x-ray machines and labs. And our officer manager, Orel Ben-Ari, has been instrumental in helping us run the clinic,” she said.
Ben-Ami noted that the clinic does not treat children under the age of 12 because the Health Ministry provides insurance for children of asylum-seekers for a small fee.
“We don’t want to encourage parents not to get health insurance for their children under 12,” she explained.
Meanwhile, the medical student said the clinic desperately needs financial support from donors to meet growing demand.
“If someone needs more extensive treatment, we presently can’t give it to them because we can only afford basic medicine,” she said, adding that the clinic hopes to partner with Jerusalem-based hospitals to help absorb prohibitive costs.
“We want to work with Hadassah- University Medical Center and Shaare Zedek at some point soon,” Ben-Ami said.