Israeli Arabs More Likely Than Jews to Vaccinate Their Children, Study Finds

Health Ministry report shows life expectancy rose while infant mortality dropped.

Dan Even
Dan Even
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Dan Even
Dan Even

Israeli Arab families are more likely to have their babies vaccinated than Jewish families are, a new report from the Health Ministry's Center for Disease Control reveals.

The report, which analyzed medical trends over the past 10 years, also shows that life expectancy in Israel continues to rise, having increased by nine years over the past three decades. Average life expectancy is now 83.4 years for Jewish women, 79.7 years for Arab women, 79.6 years for Jewish men and 75.9 years for Arab men.

A baby receiving a hepatitis vaccination at Meir Hospital, Meir HospitalCredit: Alon Ron / Haaretz Archive

The average infant mortality rate, 3.8 deaths per 1,000 births, has declined by 78 percent over the past 30 years, but is still higher among Muslims (6.8 deaths per 1,000 ) and Druze (5.5 deaths per 1,000).

The report found that 94 percent of Arab families vaccinate their children against hepatitis A, compared to 80 percent of Jewish families. The immunization rate against polio is 88 percent for Arabs and 78 percent for Jews.

But vaccination against certain diseases, such as meningitis and the combined DPT inoculation against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, is virtually universal in both communities. And despite the disparities between Arabs and Jews with respect to some vaccinations, the overall childhood vaccination rate here is high.

Health officials explained the disparity between Jews and Arabs as resulting from low vaccination rates among specific segments of the Jewish population, particularly the ultra-Orthodox and communities that embrace a natural, vegetarian lifestyle. Two weeks ago, for instance, a measles outbreak was reported among 10 children on Kibbutz Harduf who had not been vaccinated against the illness. But the Health Ministry said the spread of the disease has been halted.

The ministry is currently developing a database on vaccination rates at well-baby clinics (tipot halav ) to identify communities were inoculation rates are low.

As for other health-related habits, the report cited a survey conducted in 2007-2008 which found that 90 percent of adult Israelis had a regular family physician, while 39.2 percent said they had visited their family doctor at least once in the prior month. Another 22.3 percent reported going to a specialist in the prior month and 15 percent had visited the dentist during that period.

The leading causes of death in Israel are cancer, which accounts for 25 percent of all deaths, and heart disease, at 18 percent, the report said. Between 1979 and 2007, the incidence of cancer rose by 37 percent among Jewish men and 27 percent among Jewish women. But the rise among Israeli Arabs during those years was far higher, at 140 percent for men and 150 percent for women.

The death rate from heart disease among Arab men is 50 percent higher than among Jewish men, and it is 30 percent higher for Arab women than for Jewish women. Death from stroke, which is the third-largest cause of death here, is also more common among Arabs, particularly Arab women. The fourth-largest cause of death is diabetes.

Smoking remains a major health factor. Although smoking rates have begun to decline, dropping to 22.8 percent of the adult population overall, the report noted that fully 35 percent of men beginning their army service smoke.

The report found that 32.4 percent of adults engage in regular exercise, but exercise rates are particularly low among teenagers: Fully 14.1 percent do not engage in any regular physical activity, compared to 6.7 percent of American teens and 2.3 percent of British youth.

Birthrates in Israel remain high compared to the rest of the Western world. Nevertheless, since the 1960s, they have declined by 21 percent among Jews, by 59 percent among Muslims and by 66 percent among Druze.

With regard to the Israeli population's mental health, the study said that 14.6 percent of women and 9.6 percent of men reported having been diagnosed with depression at some point, while 1.7 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men have suffered from post-traumatic stress. The rate of substance abuse, which includes alcohol and drug abuse, was reported at 9.1 percent among men and 1.6 percent among women.

The report noted a decline in the incidence of most infectious diseases. However, it found an increase in venereal diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, as well as in pertussis (whooping cough ) and infection from the campylobacter bacterium, which is spread through negligent food handling of chicken products and requires hospitalization, especially among children.



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