To our good health

The Taub Center Annual Herbert M. Singer International Conference was held this year for the 12th time under the title Inequality in Health: Defining Challenges, Developing Solutions. Speakers and guests included professionals in the health and welfare fields from Israel and abroad

Taub Center President, Prof. Avi Weiss

Prof. Sir Michael Marmot from University College London delivered the opening lecture, Inequality in the Health System from an International Perspective. Prof. Marmot referred to the life expectancy data in Israel and cited as an example the gap between the life expectancy of Palestinian men and that of Jewish men: “Israel’s life expectancy is excellent, but the main challenge, as in all countries, is inequality.”

Prof. Davidovitch, Principal Researcher and Chair, Taub Center Health Policy Program, led the first conference session. He spoke about the report of the Decade Committee on health disparities in Israel, challenges and possible solutions. He related to the work done in the past few years in the Ministry of Health to deal with inequality, which is expressed, for example, in bigotry by patients towards healthcare workers and vice versa. He expanded on the work of the committee and its goal: formulating a plan to eradicate health inequalities by 2032. The committee’s main recommendations for the 2023–2024 budget are setting goals and measurement mechanisms for eradicating health inequality in the coming decade; the institutionalization of the health sector in the local government; the development of unique and multi-system solutions for people living in poverty and expanding the services provided to them, assistance in uptake of rights and increasing representation; and strengthening the governance of the Ministry of Health in order to reduce inequality in general and inequality in the first years of life in particular. He concluded his remarks by referring to the importance of the conference: “This conference excites me very much, it is an important decision to put the issue of inequality at the center of a conference on health. I think that the issue is very much connected to the worldview of the Taub Center in the sense that it examines inequality in health not only from a narrow medical point of view, but also from a broader point of view, at the national and international level.”

Among the participants in this session was Prof. Nachman Ash, Director General of the Ministry of Health. He stated that the issue of inequality has intensified in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 epidemic. The main challenges in reducing inequality are the need to identify the sectors and populations that suffer from it and the critical need to establish measurement mechanisms and goals on the subject.

The subject of overturning the tax on sugary drinks was raised in this session when Prof. Orly Manor, Chairwoman of the Executive Committee of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research, said in her final remarks: “I call from here, as a researcher of disparities for many years, not to overturn the law on the taxation of sugary drinks; this is an important tool in the fight against diabetes and the issue of inequality.” Prof. Davidovitch joined her and added: “Unfortunately, this tax has been painted as something anti-Haredi. But this is certainly not the case. In Arab society, the consumption of sugary drinks is also high and there is a high level of diabetes. The political discourse has tied the sugar tax specifically to the Haredi community, but, in the end, (the law being overturned) is for the good of everyone.”

Next, Dr. Joreintje Mackenbach from the University Medical Center of Amsterdam delivered the keynote address, Inequality in Health at a Local Level – the Role of Neighborhood Environments. She spoke about the environment in her local residential area as an example of the link between good public transportation in her city and greater longevity. She also talked about her research, which dealt with the food environment that has changed over time and showed that the biggest change is evident in the decrease of fresh food stores such as greengrocers and butchers.

The second session, Health Inequality: The Intersection of Geography, Poverty, Education, Ethnicity and Gender, was moderated by Dr. Sagit Arbel-Alon, Chief Physician and Director of the Health Services System at the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs. Among the participants in this panel was Ms. Yael Sherer, Founder and Director of the Lobby Against Sexual Violence. Ms. Sherer spoke to the importance of an understanding of disease, like heart disease in women, and its relation to sexual trauma as well as the difficulties for women who have experienced sexual assault to care for their bodies and their health. She added that there is not enough awareness of the issue and said that she met with the Minister of Health and asked to assign units to deal with the issue. “The most invisible population is the population of victims of sexual violence.” However, she said, the health funds are already starting to formulate plans for customized healthcare, and although this issue is still in its infancy – both in Israel and in the world – the interest in it is increasing.

Prof. Sarab Abu Rabia-Queder also participated in this session and spoke about her latest research that dealt with discrimination against professional women and in particular in the Bedouin society in the Negev – for example, female social workers, researchers, psychologists, pharmacists, and more. She said that the research showed that despite their education and professionalism, they experience multidimensional discrimination both from their employers and from the public they come into contact with as part of their work.

The third and final session, Food Insecurity, was dedicated to the memory of the late Prof. Dov Chernichovsky. The outgoing Minister of Welfare and Social Affairs, Mr. Meir Cohen, came and spoke about his work of many years both as mayor of Dimona and as a member of the Knesset with Prof. Chernichovsky. Minister Cohen said that Prof. Chernichovsky was an enterprising person who opened his eyes to many issues, and together they established and promoted a medical center in Dimona that is open 24 hours a day. “He told me: I’ll bring you ideas, you bring the money.” On the subject of food insecurity, the Minister said that there are indeed hungry children, and offered to tour the Bedouin diaspora to understand what poverty is. He said that the distribution of food stamps to needy families is on the agenda today, although according to him there is a certain problem with this solution. He ended his talk with a call to the future government. “In 2012, they held a conference and asked who wanted to be Minister of Welfare, me and Bougie (Isaac Herzog) came; if they were to hold a conference now, it is likely that no one will come. But I really appeal to all the good politicians who will replace us: let’s be trailblazers and open our eyes to the question of food security. It is as important as ever.”

Mr. Gidi Kroch, Executive Director of Leket Israel, spoke about his organization and the various programs that have been developed in the organization and changes over the years. In one of them, for example, soups and salads are prepared from surpluses, which are real meals for the needy elderly who receive them: “It’s amazing how out of our need to know what to do with all these surpluses, a solution came to all those people to whom we distribute food.”

Prof. Hagai Levine, Chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, who led the third session concluded with the following remarks: “Every crisis is also an opportunity. This conference shows us that health inequalities are an opportunity to raise this important subject onto the public agenda.”

To read more about the conference and to view the conference panels

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