Ombudsman: Israel’s Health System Majorly Unprepared for Epidemic

This picture taken on March 16, 2020 during a press presentation of the hospitalisation service for future patients with coronavirus at Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, shows the director of the epidemics service Dr Karina Glick checking a medical ventilator control panel at …
File Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

TEL AVIV – Israel’s health system is woefully unprepared to deal with the effects of an epidemic, a report written before the coronavirus outbreak and released Monday by the state comptroller said.

Based on a scenario involving an influenza outbreak, the report found the government failed to formulate sufficient plans to combat such an outbreak and had a severe lack of both medicine and medical equipment, including ventilators.

Some 25 percent –  about 2,250,000 Israelis – would be impacted by the epidemic and death rates would be on the rise over a period of eight weeks. Around 150,000 Israelis would be hospitalized, with about 25,000 in ICUs.

The report noted general overcrowding in all Israeli hospitals and a lack of ICU beds.

The National Preparedness Program noted anti-viral medication should be stockpiled to accommodate 25 percent of the population, nine percent more than is currently available.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was health minister during part of the period covered in the report, said that while “there is room for improvement,” the report is not relevant to coronavirus.

“There is no country in the world that could forecast or prepare for the spread of the virus,” he said in a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. “No health system in the world, even the best one, was prepared to deal with the epidemic.”

“Thanks to the steps taken by the Prime Minister, which preempted the world, Israel’s situation is better than many developed countries. Even before the Coronavirus spread to Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu held comprehensive discussions in which – inter alia – the directive was given to establish a system of vaccines that would assist in dealing with epidemics,” the statement said.

It went on to note Netanyahu had ordered thousands of ventilators and 1,000 hospital beds to be ICU-ready. The health system will have hundreds of job openings, including 200 positions for doctors, 605 for nurses, around 300 janitorial positions, and around 6,000 students to render assistance as well hundreds of positions for interns, the statement said.

The health ministry responded that the state comptroller’s report was being studied.

“Israel was one of the first countries to understand the severity of the pandemic and led by the NSC and the Health Ministry, drastic measures were taken to close the borders of the country that were subsequently implemented in almost all countries of the world,” a statement from the ministry said.

“The purpose of the health ministry’s policy in dealing with the coronavirus is to try to flatten the curve of the sick so there be less morbidity and a dramatic increase in the number of the ill and hospitalized patients. The medical staff in hospitals and the community are at the forefront of coronavirus care, a front that is likely to continue for at least a few more months,” the statement said.

According to a report by Israel’s Channel 13, the health ministry is pushing Netanyahu to impose a complete lockdown on the country for seven days.

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