Health Ministry must improve treatment guidelines for hostages – expert

Science and Health

Changes in the procedure for treating hostages after their release must be made by the Health Ministry, according to a letter sent to the ministry by Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the medical and resilience group at the headquarters of the families of the abductees.

The ministry’s guidelines for the treatment of released hostages are insufficient, wrote Levine, who is also a veteran epidemiologist and head of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians.

The letter stated that the ministry was not attentive to the needs of the hostages and their families. There is thus an “urgent need to update the existing guidelines that have been distributed to the entire medical system.

Changes and adjustments 

The letter includes 14 clauses that require a change or adjustment. They are meant to clarify and deepen the physical and mental treatment of those returning from captivity and their families,” Levine explained. 

The physical conditions at the place where they will be brought for treatment must be devoted to relaxation, calming, and isolation from outsiders. Medical treatment should be offered in guest houses for those who don’t need to be hospitalized, he added. 

Kfar Aza residents and People call on the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv. October 26, 2023. (credit: Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

Those who will give them therapy should be gender-matched and maintain the patient’s physical and mental confidentiality, even from other family members and health system officials. Hypersensitivity should exist if the released hostages suffered sexual abuse. 

Levine warned that the documentation of sexual abuse must be carried out with strict professionalism, in view of the possibility that addressing the issue will trigger additional traumas for them.


Psychological treatment 

Another need is to provide the same experienced therapist over time, including for psychological treatment. At the same time, the medical treatment should include the preparation of the families of the returned abductees to understand common phenomena that can arise during the release and pay attention to the needs and reactions of the family members while preparing in advance to respond to their difficulties. 

As for the treatment of children returned from captivity, the ministry’s guidelines must include an obligation to attach to each child a person who will be a permanent figure, whether it’s a parent, relative, or other care provider (for those cases where the child is the only remaining survivor). A familiar environment or one that at least includes familiar objects and snacks should be prepared for the children, with unique solutions provided for children without families, he continued. 

Another part of the letter is based on the treatment of abductees who were returned in the past and were exposed to torture during their captivity deals with the possibility that returnees could have suicidal thoughts. Emphasis on this topic should be included in the ministry’s guidelines. In addition, it is mandatory to prepare in advance any previous medical documentation to make possible optimal treatment for those who return to Israel. 

The letter was sent a couple of days ago to the head of the ministry’s medical division, Dr. Hagar Mizrahi, but Levine has yet to receive a response