Antiretroviral pills Truvada sit at a pharmacy in California.
(photo credit: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
The Health Ministry approved a preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) program to prevent HIV transmission on Tuesday, making Israel one of the first countries to implement it.
PrEP involves healthy but high-risk people taking medications that significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection or of carriers infecting others.
The Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee, headed by Kulanu MK Eli Alalouf, discussed the subject on Tuesday.
Dr. Yuval Livnat, director-general of the Israel AIDS Task Force, said that while anyone can be infected, one cannot ignore the fact that men who have sex with men are the most susceptible and part of the largest group at risk.
While most homosexuals use condoms, those that don’t need PrEP to prevent infection, he added. Many heterosexuals who don’t use contraception are at risk because of their habits, and they need such protection as well.
The drugs are to be handed out at AIDS centers in hospitals and clinics that serve homosexuals, in addition to health fund clinics. The ministry is soon to decide whether to give the drug to those who inject hard drugs and women at high risk.
Dr. Hila Elinav, an AIDS specialist, said taking Truvada before having unprotected sex is effective in preventing the HIV infection. Those who take the drug have to be under a doctor’s supervision, because it can cause complications.
Dr. Gal Wagner, a doctor in the LGBT clinic at Gan Meir in Tel Aviv, added: “We have all the medical and social tools to wipe out the HIV epidemic, and these include PrEP.” He noted that the US Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization endorse the drug.
San Francisco, which has an HIV rate similar to that in Israel, is one of the few places in the world that already has a prevention program that includes the drug that lowers the infection risk close to zero. The medication has already been included in the French health basket, and is due to be introduced in several US states.
Every week, three homosexual men become HIV carriers, and 10 percent of homosexuals who live in Tel Aviv are carriers.
Experts say there is already a black market for Truvada here, and many order it from abroad.
“The gay community wants to take responsibility for their health,” Wagner said. “We need the Health Ministry to help us.”
Ido Cohen, a representative of the Israeli Gay Youth organization, said Truvada should be made available for teens as well.
Medical teams in hospitals must be trained to be sensitive to those who come for treatment because they’re afraid they were exposed to HIV, he said.
Alalouf said that by June, there will be a working plan for dealing with the issue in the homosexual community.
“I call on the Health Ministry to present details on progress.
I will hold meetings with the minister and director-general on the subject.”