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Those at risk of AIDS show growing apathy toward protection
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
12/01/2010
World AIDS Day: Although infection rate of HIV is declining, health official warns of “trend of returning to behaviors” in Israel of having unprotected sex.
 
Although the infection rate of HIV and the number of new AIDS cases in the world is declining, Health Ministry Director-General Dr. Ronni Gamzu has warned that in Israel, there is a “trend of returning to behaviors” of having unprotected sex that existed before the virus was discovered 30 years ago.

To mark World AIDS Day, which takes place on Wednesday, Gamzu said that many high-risk individuals felt that because the improvement in medication has turned AIDS into a chronic disease rather than a fatal one, in many cases, it was not a great threat. The high-risk groups include homosexuals and drug addicts who inject themselves.

He added that prevention was vital and that early detection of HIV in those infected was urgent, to reduce the spread of the disease and lower the death rate. The directorgeneral asked his staff to speed up approval of quick detection kits during 2011 and reduce the wait for results.

According to international statistics, 2.7 million people were infected with HIV in 2008, and a total of 33 million people live with the virus. In Israel, from 1981 until the end of 2009, 6,147 people have become HIV carriers or developed full-blown AIDS. A total of 1,277 of them have died or left the country, and there are 4,870 reported AIDS patients and HIV carriers here. However, as many have not been tested, it is believed that some 7,000 in Israel have the virus.

There were 382 new cases reported in 2009, the ministry said.

Blood tests for HIV are free for everyone in health fund clinics and in seven hospital AIDS centers. Last year, 280,000 people went for voluntary testing, but 70 percent of Israelis have not gone for testing, according to an Israel AIDS Task Force poll.

A ministry survey of a representative sample of youths aged 15 to 18 found that a fifth of them had had full sexual relations, but 30% of them did not use condoms. An Internetbased campaign through sites frequented by young people will urge them to use condoms to prevent infection with HIV.

The ministry said there was an increase of male HIV carriers and AIDS patients who reported having sex with other men.

A separate campaign will be aimed at them.

The ministry supplies thousands of condoms to homosexual organizations that distribute them to members.

The rate of drug users among HIV carriers is 18%. For the fourth year, the ministry has had a program of needle exchanges so that addicts will not infect themselves and others with HIV.

There are five distribution centers around the country that also hand out condoms.

As AIDS is endemic in many African countries, immigrants from Ethiopia are taught about protection from infection with help from Amharicspeaking women from the community, who have been trained to help the newcomers in their encounters with the health system.

UNAIDS reports that after collecting data from 182 countries, it found that the number of new cases has remained steady or declined in 56 of them, including in some sub-Saharan countries where AIDS has been an epidemic. There has also been a drop in the number of newborn babies infected by their mothers during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

The anti-AIDS “cocktail” has become more accessible to many.

According to the Israel AIDS Task Force, the number of new cases of HIV infection in 2010 is likely to be similar to that in 2009. The biggest problem is among homosexuals; there were 140 homosexual men among the new cases last year.

Anonymous HIV testing will be held on Wednesday at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv between 5 and 8 p.m. The test costs NIS 50, but will be free for soldiers. There will also be anonymous testing at Ben- Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; at the Technion in Haifa between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; at Shenkar College in Ramat Gan between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.; and at the Israel AIDS Task Force center in Tel Aviv between 5 and 8 p.m.

The Israel AIDS Task Force, in opposition to Health Ministry policy, calls for the testing of all pregnant women for HIV infection so carriers will not pass it on to their infants. The ministry says universal screening is “unnecessary” because the test is recommended to high-risk groups. Nevertheless, each year, a few dozen babies are born with HIV.

According to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, one out of every five carriers is resistant to one of the anti- AIDS drugs even before starting treatment. As a result, carriers have to take more types of medications and thus suffer from more side effects, the hospital said.
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