WHO leaders study health situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory

Senior leaders at the World Health Organization (WHO) recently undertook an official visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to better understand the health situation and discuss collaboration with WHO. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, Regional-Director of WHO’s European Region, and Dr Ala Alwan, Regional-Director of WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region represented the Organization in the three-day visit.

The global health leaders met with senior officials in both locations to discuss the health status of their population, review their health systems and the health challenges they face. In Israel, Dr Chan and Dr Jakab met with President Shimon Peres and Ms Yael German, Minister of Health, Dr Ronni Gamzu, Director General of Health and staff.

On the Palestinian side, the Director-General and Regional Directors met with Dr Salam Fayad, Prime Minister and Dr Hani Abdeen, Minister of Health and staff.

The WHO delegation visited the WHO Office for West Bank and Gaza, based in East Jerusalem, and reviewed with the staff of the Office, priority programmes of collaboration.

In Ramallah, to celebrate the start of the world immunization week, the global health leaders visited a clinic vaccinating children against vaccine-preventable diseases. In the occupied Palestinian territory, there is close to 100% vaccination coverage and the life expectancy is 72.5 years.

They also visited the newly established Palestinian Public Health Institute through joint collaboration between the Ministry of Health, Government of Norway and WHO. Discussion focused on strategic directions focusing on key priorities of health development in Palestine. The visit also included a neonatal ward at Makassad Hospital, which is one of the main referral hospitals for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Challenges for Palestinian health workers in accessing their workplaces due to the occupation were discussed during the visit to Augusta Victoria Hospital, which provides specialist services. A recent report by WHO details the difficulties Palestinian patients and hospital personnel are facing in obtaining Israeli permits to access specialized care facilities. This subject, as well as strengthening future collaboration to address this challenge, were discussed during the meeting with the Minister of Health of Israel and other officials.

The WHO delegation had discussions with a large number of Palestinian public health leaders in a meeting organized by the Minister of Health, which included key health challenges that require further technical support from WHO.

Access to tertiary medical treatment for Palestinians is part of the Oslo accords, and the delegation visited the Tel Aviv Medical Center – a tertiary hospital that provides high-quality specialist treatment to Palestinian patients referred to Israel.

Because of long life expectancy and good health indicators, like many other countries, Israel is also faced with the rise of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. Visits to medical clinics illustrated strengths of the Israeli health system and provided ideas for using new technologies for solutions including e-health. Maccabi, one of four Health Management Organizations in Israel, has connected health clinics, laboratories, pharmacies and individuals through a web-platform to ensure integrated health care where all stakeholders are informed of the health status and the treatment provided to the patient.

In general, the health situation in Israel is good, with more than 90% of children receiving the main vaccinations they need and the population experiencing, on average, a long life expectancy (80 years for men and 84 years for women). But the long life expectancy also brings the challenges of ensuring an ageing population has the health care and services they need for a good quality of life in their older years and the delegation discussed these issues with the health officials in Israel.

The WHO Director-General, in meetings with the senior officials for Israel and occupied Palestinian territory, expressed a wish that health could be a bridge to peace.