The University of Michigan School of Public Health’s final meeting in Israel was at the Ministry of Health, the unit of the Israeli government responsible for formulating health policies, overseeing the nation’s healthcare services, and managing the health care budget. The U-M SPH delegation was specifically scheduled to meet with the Public Health Services division within the Ministry.
The streets of Jerusalem provided a striking backdrop for the afternoon meeting. We excitedly looked out at the magnificent view of ancient buildings and curving streets. It was, for many of us, our first time in the historical city, and being within its boundaries made us really feel the richness of Israel.
Itamar Grotto, who is the Director of Public Health Services of Israel, graciously welcomed us to meet with him and a number of other men and women who work for the Ministry.
He opened by discussing the Israeli health care system and why it has been so successful despite the nation’s ongoing challenges.
The strengths he mentioned include:
- Universal access to general/preventive services (including “illegal immigrants”)
- Awareness of the needs of Israel’s diverse population
- Highly professional public health personnel who contribute to public health research themselves
- Strong public health legislation
He also noted the shifting pattern of disease burden in Israel and how the Ministry has adapted to the new situation. In the United States the pattern of disease burden has moved from infectious diseases such as malaria and Tuberculosis (TB) to noncommunicable conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. According to our discussions with the Ministry, the pattern of disease burden in Israel is beginning to mirror that of the United States, meaning chronic disease has become one of the country’s primary causes of death and disability.
When asked to name the most pressing health issues in Israel today, Grotto named the following:
- Active, healthy lifestyles
- Water quality
- Food regulation and supervision
- Maternal-infant health
- Healthy schools
- Health disparities
- Human rights issues
While several of the problems Grotto listed are related to the prevention and management of chronic disease, infectious diseases remain a national health problem in Israel. This is due in part to the very high level of immigration and heterogeneity in Israel. Israel is extremely diverse in its demographics, its culture, and the issues the Ministry of Health must address to keep its inhabitants healthy. Israel is truly what Grotto refers to as a “global country”.
As U-M SPH Dean Martin Philbert said during the trip, “What happens in one place in the world is now only a plane ride away. We are increasingly a smaller and smaller globe.” With this in mind, it has become more and more critical to learn alongside other countries such as Israel through novel and collaborative efforts.