Comptroller: Israel's health system not ready for huge pandemic

Isolation ward in Sheba medical center  / Photo: Shaul Golan

A report prepared by the State Comptroller last year found the country was not prepared for a serious flu pandemic in which 2 million were ill and 150,000 hospital beds needed.

Before the coronavirus crisis struck, the system for handling pandemics in Israel suffered from failures liable to complicate efforts to combat the current and future pandemics, according to a report by State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman.

The question of Israel's preparedness for pandemics drew Englman's attention following evidence of failure and confusion in handling flu epidemics, leishmania, leptospira, and especially measles, which turned an insignificant disease into a killer because of opposition to vaccination. Work on the report began in early 2019, among other things following an increase in the prevalence of measles in 2018, and ended in November 2019.

The report dealt mainly with the threat of a flu pandemic - a general epidemic expected to develop in a manner similar to coronavirus. "Rapid elimination of diseases and prevention of outbreaks and reappearance of epidemics is a supreme societal objective of significance to both human life and the economy," the report states. "A pandemic could cost the world 5% of GDP." The report's conclusion is clear: even though the threat is clear and known, the state's preparation for a flu pandemic was faulty.

Towards the end of work on the report, the coronavirus already began to spread, and the report's authors realized that it could soon become much more relevant than they had thought. It was signed on February 20, 2020, when the epidemic began spreading outside China. A week later, the first patient in Israel already landed from Italy.

Following the publication of the report, the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians said that the severe shortage of personnel in ordinary times was severely affecting Israel's preparedness for an emergency. Even now, in the current emergency, "'Reserves' are not being called up, money is not being allocated to reinforce public health personnel, and they are refusing to pay the dedicate workers for work at night and on weekends. Had we made proper preparations in ordinary times for seasonal flu and measles, we would also have been far better prepared for a pandemic. We hope that the leaders of the system will be open to criticism, and will repair the defects that can be urgently redressed."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 23, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Isolation ward in Sheba medical center  / Photo: Shaul Golan
Isolation ward in Sheba medical center / Photo: Shaul Golan
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