Health Ministry: Climate Change Sending More Israelis to Hospital

Ministry recently began studying more than a million hospitalizations over the past 11 years, finding a similar trend to rising diseases in Israel as found throughout the world

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Israelis take part in a protest against climate change during an event in Tel Aviv, Israel September 27, 2019.
Israelis take part in a protest against climate change during an event in Tel Aviv, Israel September 27, 2019.Credit: \ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Health Ministry has found a correlation between global warming and the rise in the number of Israelis hospitalized for heart, brain and vascular diseases.

“The warmer various Israeli cities become, the more hospitalized patients there are,” says the ministry researcher leading the team examining the effects of the climate crisis on the health system.

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The World Health Organization sees climate crisis as the greatest health threat facing humanity. Leading medical journals point to a correlation between global warming and the rise in diseases, pandemics and mortality. Yet in Israel, which is warming up twice as fast as the world average, the Health Ministry has only recently started looking into the warming effects on the local population’s disease rate.

In the past year the Health Ministry realized it could no longer ignore the issue and launched a comprehensive study of climate change’s impact on serious diseases among Israelis, Haaretz learned.

The study consists of data of more than 1 million hospitalized patients in most of Israel’s hospitals during 2011-2020. Preliminary findings indicate a clear correlation between global warming and the rise in the number of hospitalized patients, the scientists say.

Ministry officials did not say how high the documented rise was, noting they were still examining the numbers’ breakdown among the various cities and the warming effect in each one on the disease and mortality rates.

“We understand the climate crisis has impacts we haven’t examined yet,” the research team leader, Dr. Isabella Karkis of the Health Ministry’s Department of Environmental Epidemiology, told Haaretz. Karkis and her team are working with the Meteorological Service and Professor Lena Novack, a bio-statistician of the Negev Environmental Health Research Institute.

“We knew of the correlation between heart and vascular problems and climate change, but there was no information about the Israeli population. A lot of the data surprised us,” Karkis said.

“Of course this is bad and troubling. Already at this stage we can conclude that we must better protect the older population from climate changes in Israel. When we complete the study we’ll understand what guidelines to issue.”

A ministry official said the scientists gathered data from hospitals in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Be’er Sheva, Israel’s four largest cities.

“For years there was an assumption that we’re immune to the hazards of heat waves in Israel, because we are acclimatized to the Middle East conditions and used to heat. This study undermines this assumption and shows that heat waves impact disease rate here too,” says Nir Stav, head of the Meteorology Service. “These new findings are especially important because we see a clear trend in the rising frequency of heat waves and their intensity, and the climate forecasts make it clear that our future is strewn with heat waves both in summer and in the spring and autumn.“

More heatwaves

The number of heatwaves in Israel is growing due to the climate crisis. The meteorology Service has warned that in the next three decades the number of days in which temperatures in Israel will be more than 34 degrees will soar, and in recent decades the frequency of heat waves has spiked.

Professor Nadav Davidovitch, an epidemiologist and public health physician and head of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Public Health, says “in the world we’ve known for a long time that there’s a close connection between climate changes and the rise in disease rate and death. The problem is that until today these things weren’t measured properly in Israel.

“The Health Ministry must put in place a reform that will address the issue in all the schools and the doctors’ work,” he says.

Public health physician and epidemiologist Professor Hagai Levine says: “Climate change threatens public health not only in the future but already now. We need to prepare comprehensively for the effects of climate change on Israelis’ health, inside and outside the health system.”

About a month ago the Lancet medical journal published a report of the rising number of heat-linked deaths around the world due to global warming. The report also found that heat-related deaths among people aged 65 and older increased by 68 percent over the last four years compared to 2000-2004.

The World Health Organization says exposure to extreme heat has wide-range physiological effects on all human beings. The organization predicts that in the years 2030-2050, an additional 250,000 deaths are expected to occur in the world due to nutrition problems, malaria and increased heat load as a result of the climate crisis.

In May a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Ministry and Tel Aviv University scientists found a correlation between the death of hundreds of Israelis and heat waves. The scientists say that in eight heat waves in Israel between 2012 and 2020, a surplus of 363 deaths was detected, compared to the average numbers of deaths in the previous three years. The study was initiated by Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, following Haaretz’s report on the surplus deaths of some 150 Israelis in the extreme heat wave of May 2020.

Health Ministry officials presented conclusions based on the data gathered so far to delegates of the countries that took part in the recent climate conference held at Sharm el-Sheikh.

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