|Ministry of Health Makes Services in Four Languages Mandatory|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
All Israeli doctors will now be required to follow the lead of Physicians for Human Rights
"Medical misunderstandings can be a matter of life and death," explained Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, Director of NIF grantee The Jerusalem Inter-Cultural Center. "Several years ago a pregnant Arab woman who had just passed full term came to Poriah Hospital in Tiberias. After being given an ultrasound to ensure the baby was well, she was sent home but told to return again within a few days. When she came back a week later the baby was stillborn and it transpired she had not understood a word the doctor had told her."
This sort of tragedy will hopefully be a thing of the past in Israel. The Jerusalem Inter-Cultural Center and NIF grantee Public Trust, which promotes consumer issues, have waged a successful campaign for patients' rights. Last week, the Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Health sent a circular instructing the country’s hospitals, health funds and other organizations to provide all medical services in four languages - Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English.
The Ministry of Health now requires all written information, websites, forms and signs to be in the four languages, while telephone call centers and translations services for real time treatment of patients must be provided in five languages, including Amharic, the native tongue of Ethiopian immigrants. Doctors and health professionals must also ensure that patients fully understand any treatments that they will receive.
Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir said, “The tragic story of the Arab woman in Tiberias is just a worst-case scenario of thousands of cases that involve enormous suffering because patients cannot understand what they are being told. The new directive is a medical revolution in Israel. But it is only the start of the revolution and in the coming years we will be required to monitor that the directive is being implemented."
The Ministry of Health has also instructed that all professional training courses must include components about sensitivity to the cultural differences of minorities, immigrants and migrant workers.
Dr. Snir said, “This is also an important breakthrough because we can now press all government ministries to mandate services to the public in various languages.”