Israeli pharmacist suspected of replacing medicine with baking soda

The Health Ministry is investigating a chilling incident in which a pharmacist from southern Israel working for one of Israel’s largest HMOs is suspected of emptying the contents of a large number of medicine capsules, filling them with baking soda instead and repackaging them to sell to patients, N12 reported on Wednesday evening.
In recent weeks, the ministry has been working to find out both exactly how many patients of his received the fake medicine, and whether the pharmacist’s alleged actions caused any patients’ health to deteriorate.

The case against the pharmacist reportedly began after the HMO began to notice that in one of the active pharmacies in Israel, one of the pharmacists was not following Health Ministry procedures.

Senior Health Ministry officials said that after the suspicions arose, HMO employees began looking into the pharmacist’s work habits and following his actions, according to N12.

Once it was discovered that the pharmacist had been emptying capsules and replacing their contents, the HMO decided to report the pharmacist to the Health Ministry. 

In the coming days, the ministry is expected to contact the police in order to evaluate the scope of the affair.

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Israeli Charity Treats Ultra-Orthodox Virus Patients at Home

JERUSALEM — When the elderly father of an ultra-Orthodox radio personality in Israel contracted the coronavirus recently, his family dreaded the prospect of his entering an isolated hospital ward and possibly never coming out.

So the broadcaster made a round of calls that turned up an alternative.

A small charity was offering an under-the-radar service treating mostly ultra-Orthodox and older Covid-19 patients in their homes, even in severe cases where health experts say it could endanger lives. Drawing on the services of a few doctors — and dozens of volunteers, most without medical training — it was operating out of a basement in Mea Shearim, a Jerusalem stronghold of the most extreme anti-Zionist Jewish sects that shun cooperation with the state.

Hundreds had already turned to the charity for care out of a sense that remaining with family — and avoiding public hospitals — outweighed the risks. But the project was also tinged with a general distrust of government among the ultra-Orthodox community, which appears to be increasingly going it alone in handling the pandemic and many other aspects of daily life.

Since the home-care initiative was reported by Israel’s N12 news service this week, health officials and experts have responded with a mix of condemnation and curiosity. One leading epidemiologist was among those who said the approach could help ease the burden on hospitals.

Dr. Sharon Elrai-Price, a senior Health Ministry official, denounced the operation as a “dangerous” departure and said the ministry was looking into the legality of some aspects of it.

Dr. Ran Balicer, an Israeli health care official who advises the government on the pandemic, called the charity “a gamble.” A coronavirus patient’s condition can deteriorate rapidly, he said, adding it was “hard to predict a moment of no return for people who might have survived had they reached the hospital in time.”

But Dr. Gabriel Barbash, a leading Israeli professor of epidemiology, is among those who view the charity’s approach as a possible way to ease the load on hospitals and worthy of further study. Other advocates insist that even in severe cases, a calm home environment can aid recovery.

Yitzhak Markovitz, a member of a small Hasidic sect, started the at-home care service about six months ago through his charity, Hasdei Amram. He said his patients generally avoided taking government Covid-19 tests to evade official attention and pressure

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