Rate of Asthma Cases in Haifa's Children More Than Double Israeli Average

Researchers suggest air pollution has led to higher rate ■ In vicinity of Sea of Galilee, it’s four times as high allegedly due to shortage of specialists, Health Ministry finds

FILE Photo: An oil refinery in Haifa.
Baz Ratner

The rate of hospitalization of Haifa’s children for asthma is 2.32 times higher than the national average, according to a new Ministry of Health report released on Thursday.

The report covered the number of hospital admissions for asthma, for children under 14 years of age, over a 20-year period. It points to “environmental factors” as one reason for the higher number of admissions in the Haifa area. The report also shows that hospitalization for asthma is 4.13-fold higher than the national average in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) region, with the Golan Heights also showing a 2.12-fold higher rate of admissions. The lowest rate, according to the report, is in the Jerusalem area.

The report documented the number of hospitalizations for at least two nights, between 1996 and 2015, for three age groups. The rates in Haifa are the highest in the 1-4 and the 5-15 age groups, and second-highest for the 0-1 age group. The highest incidence of hospitalization of babies was registered in the northern part of the country.

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“This is the first study we’ve done regarding the development of asthma in the Haifa region, spanning a period of 20 years,” says Dr. Isabella Karkis, the head of the Department of Environmental Epidemiology at the Health Ministry. “Over these two decades, changes were made and laws passed to reduce air pollution, yet Haifa still shows high rates of this disease, which lead to high rates of hospitalization.”

The researchers assume that the high rates near the Kinneret and on the Golan Heights owe to a shortage of specialists in respiratory medicine, which leads to high admissions following uncontrolled asthma. “We assume that due to a shortage of specialists and a poor infrastructure of care facilities in these communities, there is less primary immediate care, which ultimately leads to more severe expression of the disease and to more hospital admissions,” explains Karkis. The Health Ministry also points to environmental factors as a possible cause.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said the report yet again proves that conditions in the Haifa region negatively affect the health of the area’s residents. “We need real action by all relevant agencies, including the Haifa municipality, the Energy Ministry and the Ministry for Environmental Protection, which, along with the Health Ministry, will enforce regulations that will prevent the harm inflicted on Haifa residents,” said Litzman.

The ministry’s deputy director-general, Prof. Itamar Grotto, said that these numbers show a clear correlation. “The excess asthma morbidity in the Haifa region has been there for many years,” he said. The ministry’s director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that these results require the upgrade of pollution monitoring. “Haifa residents, like the rest of the country, are entitled to enjoy their right to good health,” he said.

In 2016, the Health Ministry published a document that linked excessive morbidity in Haifa to air pollution coming from transportation and industry sources. “The Haifa region has a higher-than average number of people with cardiac and respiratory diseases, including an aggravation of childhood asthma and cancer,” said that document.