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Israeli Health

Israel's high standards of health services, top-quality medical resources and research, modern hospital facilities and an impressive ratio of physicians and specialists to population are reflected in the country's low infant mortality rate (7.5 per 1,000 live births) and long life expectancy (79.1 years for women, 75.3 for men). Health care for all, from infancy to old age, is ensured by law and the national expenditure on health (8.2 percent of the GNP) compares favorably with that of other developed countries.

A Long-Standing Tradition:

In the 19th century, diseases such as dysentery, malaria, typhus and trachoma were rampant in the Land of Israel, then a backward and neglected part of the Ottoman Empire. To provide health services for the Jewish population of the Old City of Jerusalem, a number of clinics, set up by European Jewish communities, extended free medical services for those unable to pay and were famous for their dedicated care under difficult circumstances.

These clinics expanded to become hospitals: Bikur Holim (est. 1843), Misgav Ladach (est. 1888) and Shaare Zedek (est. 1902), which still function today, offering up-to-date services with modern medical technology.

The Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, with schools of medicine, nursing and pharmacology and two modern hospitals, traces its beginning to two nurses who were sent to Jerusalem in 1913 by the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America.

Health Services

The foundation of the health system, including a network of medical services for prevention, diagnosis and treatment, was laid during the pre-state period by the Jewish community and the British Mandate authorities, which administered the country during that time (1918-48). Thus when the State of Israel was established, a well-developed medical infrastructure was already functioning, immunization was standard procedure and frameworks for improving environmental conditions were operative. However, in the early years of statehood, the health services had to readdress some of the problems previously overcome in order to cope with the health needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees from postwar Europe and various Arab countries. This challenge was met through an intense national effort involving provision of special services as well as a far-reaching plan of health education and preventive medicine.

The country's population is served by an extensive medical network comprising hospitals, outpatient clinics and centers for preventive medicine and rehabilitation. Hospital care includes highly advanced procedures and techniques, from in vitro fertilization, CAT scans and complicated brain surgery to bone marrow and organ transplants. Mother-and-child care centers, for women during pregnancy and children from birth to early childhood, offer prenatal examinations, early detection of mental and physical disabilities, immunizations, regular pediatric check-ups and health education.

Administration and Structure

Responsibility for all health services lies with the Ministry of Health, which prepares legislation and oversees its implementation; controls medical standards nationwide; maintains food and drug quality standards; licenses medical personnel; promotes medical research; evaluates health services; and supervises the planning and construction of hospitals. The Ministry also acts as a public health agency for environmental and preventive medicine.

Health Personnel

Israel's approximately 27,000 physicians pursue their profession as members of hospital staffs and neighborhood clinics as well as in private practice. About half of the country's 47,000 nurses are registered (of whom 6 percent also have a university degree), while the rest are practical nurses.

Training for medical professions is offered at four medical schools, two schools of dentistry, one of pharmacology and some 20 nursing schools, four of which grant academic degrees. Courses for physiotherapists, occupational therapists and nutritionists, as well as for x-ray and laboratory technicians, are available at a number of institutions.

Health Insurance

The National Health Insurance Law provides for a standardized basket of medical services, including hospitalization, for all residents of Israel. Medical services are supplied by the country's four comprehensive health insurance schemes, which must accept all applicants regardless of age or state of health.

The main sources of funding are a monthly health insurance tax of up to 4.8 percent of income, collected by the National Insurance Institute, and employer participation in the cost of insurance for their employees. The insurance schemes are reimbursed according to a weighted average number of insured persons, calculated by age, distance of home from a health facility and other criteria determined by the Ministry of Health.

Magen David Adom, Israel's emergency medical service, provides a network of first aid stations, a nationwide blood donor program, blood banks and first aid courses, a public ambulance service, which includes intensive care units. The organization functions with the help of 4,500 volunteers, many of them high school students, who serve at some 40 branches throughout the country.

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