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The health system has improved in Israel, but challenges still remain

By Sally Robertson, BScMay 8, 2017

Although life expectancy has improved and infant mortality has fallen in Israel, the country’s health system still faces significant challenges, report researchers.

Credit: sevenMaps7/ Shutterstock.com

According to a new series published in The Lancet, important problems persist in the country, especially in terms of health needs for women and children, the disparities that exist between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews and an increasingly ageing population.

Overall, there has been a substantial increase in life expectancy in Israel, with the average lifespan now being 80 years for men and 84 years for women, compared with 75 and 79 years, respectively, in 1993. Infant mortality has also more than halved over this period, from 7.5 per 1000 in 1993 to 3 per 1000 now.

In 1995, universal healthcare insurance was introduced, enabling access to core health services for all Israeli citizens. Originally, only a limited number of services were available, with people having access to some medications and medical procedures and tests. Over the last ten years, this has been adjusted to include preventive and quality of life services.

In 1960, domestic spending on health was 5% of GDP, compared with 7.6% in the 2000s. However, the percentage of public funding has gradually fallen from 70% in 1995 to 60% now.

One of the professors who led the series, Mark Clarfield, (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel) says:

“The slow, but increasing privatisation of services, and stagnating national expenditure on health must be addressed so as to ensure the country is able to continue providing good quality health care for its citizens. “

The series also revealed health disparities across different Israeli populations. Although infant mortality has fallen overall, it remains twice as high among Israeli Arabs, compared with Israeli Jews. Israeli Arab women are also more likely to have advanced stage disease when diagnosed with breast cancer and are less likely to take part in breast cancer screening programmes.

Overall, health in Israel has improved steadily over recent decades but disparities persist. All government ministries should make addressing health disparities between rich and poor and Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews a priority.”

Dr Khitam Muhsen, Tel Aviv University

Another concern is the country’s ageing population, with the percentage of people aged over 65 expected to rise from 11.1% in 2015 to 14.6% in 2035, placing further pressures on health and social care services.

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