In part as a legacy of the socialist thrusts of Labor Zionism, Israelis enjoy a widely available health care system. The major complaints of the population have focused on the heavy bureaucratization of health care. In general, the health of the population compares favorably with West European standards, and the decrease in rates of infectious diseases has been very marked. The highest incidences of disease in 1986 were bacillary dysentery, 162 per 100,000, and viral hepatitis, 75 per 100,000. There were reportedly forty-three cases in Israel of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, by the end of September 1987.
In both Arab and Jewish populations, control of sanitation also has improved markedly since the the mid-1950s. Still, health care delivery has been better developed for the Jewish sector than for the Arab sector. In 1985 the life expectancy of Jewish men and women was 73.9 and 77.3 years, respectively; for non-Jews the figures were 72.0 (men) and 75.8 (women). Among Jews, in 1986 the live birth rate per 1,000 was 21.2, the death rate 7.5. Among Muslims the live birth rate per 1,000 was 33.8, the death rate 3.4. The average number of children a woman may have during her lifetime was 2.83 for Jews and 4.63 for Muslims. The infant mortality rate was 9.6 for Jews and 18.0 for Muslims.
The Ministry of Health, the principal public health agency in the country, functioned as the supreme body for licensing medical, dental, nursing, pharmaceutical, and paramedical professions, as well as for implementing all health-related legislation passed by the Knesset. It also functioned when no other nongovernmental agency was present. This fact was important in Israel because in 1985-86 the Sick Funds (Kupat Holim) contributed almost 45 percent of the national expenditure on health; in comparison, the government contributed only some 22 percent. Kupat Holim, the largest sick fund, was affiliated with the Histadrut and was supported by almost two-thirds of the Histadrut's membership dues. As the largest medical insurance carrier in Israel, the Histadrut fund covered about 70 percent of the population (Arabs included). Another 20 percent was covered by the sick funds of other organizations, which means that in general the Israeli population was well protected by health care coverage. Further evidence of the availability of health care was the ratio of physicians to the general population; in the 1970s it was more than 1 to 400, one of the highest in the world.
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