A doctor and 11 staff members who treated African migrants at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center have been infected with the tuberculosis virus. They are not contagious, however, and are on medication intended to ensure they do not develop the disease, the hospital said Tuesday.
In early August, the hospital’s director, Prof. Gabi Barbash, introduced new policies designed to protect Ichilov against the disease, including mandatory chest x-rays and special isolation areas. He also barred visits by African migrants. He acknowledged the discomfort caused by the new rules but said measures were necessary.
The staff were infected with the virus before the procedures went into effect, the hospital said Tuesday.
The Ichilov hospital guidelines were repealed after social rights groups complained of discrimination. They were replaced by country-wide procedures issued by the Ministry of Health.
Numerous physicians had warned in May that dozens of African asylum-seekers suffered from communicable diseases — measles, tuberculosis, and chicken pox — and warned of possible outbreaks in the Tel Aviv area.
Tuberculosis had been largely eradicated in the Western world through vaccination but it is widespread in developing countries. The World Health Organization has noted in reports over the past decade that migrants from developing countries are spreading tuberculosis in the developed world, and the disease is once again a health threat.
In the 1990s, the Health Ministry implemented a response program to combat “the incidence of tuberculosis due to immigration in the last decade.” The ministry took steps that complied with the WHO’s guidelines and took measures to address the needs of immigrants, the report added.
In 2008, some 400 tuberculosis cases were reported in Israel — double the number of those infected in 2004. A fifth of tuberculosis patients were migrants from Sudan, a country with high incidences of tuberculosis, or foreign workers.
Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.