Health Ministry Softens Tel Aviv Hospital Directives on Separating African Migrants

Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital last week issued instructions that African migrant patients should be isolated in case of infectious diseases.

The Health Ministry has decided to cancel recent directives issued at Tel Avivs Ichilov Hospital over the examination of African migrants, and to formulate a country-wide procedure.

The move comes after the hospital's director, Prof. Gabi Barabash, issued instructions to separate African migrant patients from Israeli patients earlier this week, citing the threat of infectious diseases.

The Ichilov directives were the subject of sharp criticism from social organizations. Haaretz reported on Thursday that a Ghanaian man who has been living in Israel for 14 years was forced to wait for a doctor for his sick baby in a locked room for an hour at Ichilovs childrens hospital. The man has had residency papers for the past five years.

Over the past two days, the ministry has been in talks with legal experts to formulate a procedure for testing migrants and refugees for diseases when they enter Israeli hospitals, in an attempt to avoid separating patients on the basis of skin color, which is illegal under Israeli law.

According to the new procedure that apparently will go into effect, only migrants without status in Israel will be required to undergo examination on arrival at hospitals. This will not be required of those who have Israeli residency papers or citizenship, and will not be required of tourists.

Migrants without status will be required to undergo X-ray screening for active tuberculosis, and blood tests for measles and chicken pox, cases of which have been reported among the migrant community in Israel recently. On the first day of admission to hospital, migrants will be placed in isolation until the results of the tests become available. If after 24 hours no infectious diseases are detected, they will move to regular wards.

In the first stage, the new procedure is expected to be implemented only in Ichilov Hospital and Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

Health ministry officials differ over the need to test all migrant workers and refugees coming to hospitals. However, according to statistics presented by Ichilov Hospital management to senior ministry officials, out of 70 migrants and refugees who underwent chest x-rays at the hospital, 13 were found to require further medical examination for tuberculosis.

The new procedure will not allow Ichilov to continue hospitalizing African migrants in separate rooms in the maternity, neo-natal, babies and childrens wards for longer than these tests for TB, measles and chickenpox require.
A senior health official said: A balance must be reached between the desire to allow free movement in the hospital and protecting [people] from the spread of diseases. We hope that the public will receive the new guidelines that are being formulated, with understanding.

Despite the cancelation of some of the levels of separation that Ichilov had ordered in its original directives, organizations that assist migrants criticized the new procedures. One social activist said: "There are other communities in Israel where there have been outbreaks of measles now," mentioning as examples villages in the north of the country where they refuse to vaccinate children, and ultra-orthodox populations. "No one would dream of putting these people into isolation when they come to a hospital, he said.

Read this article in Hebrew

African migrant workers at Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv.
Nir Kafri