HIV down in Israel but high-risk populations must still be on guard

An Israeli drug called Gammora has produced unprecedented results against the HIV virus.

Pipette dropping a sample in test tube (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Pipette dropping a sample in test tube
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
There was a decline in the number of Israelis who have been found to have been infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, according to a Health Ministry epidemiological report. In 2016, there were 361 new cases compared to 484 in 2013. World AIDS Day was marked on Friday.
Despite the smaller numbers, ministry AIDS chief Dr. Daniel Shem Tov said that the at-risk population must use condoms to prevent infection.
In the report, the ministry said that since 1981, when AIDS first appeared, there have been 9,190 new cases of AIDS and HIV carriers int he country. Of these, 1,742 patients have died from the viral disease or left the country and were unaccounted for. By the end of last year, there were 7,448 Israelis who were tested and found to live with HIV or fully fledged AIDS. Because many people have not gone for the blood test, an estimated total of 10,051 Israelis are believed to have been infected, the ministry said.
There are 41.8 HIV cases per million residents, making the Israeli rate lower than most Western European and North American countries. However, there are large gaps between different sub-populations in Israel.
This year the ministry campaign focused on the social networking world and its impact on decisions about safe sex.
Meanwhile, in experiments conducted at Rehovot’s Kaplan Medical Center, tests on the blood of HIV carriers with an Israeli drug called Gammora has produced unprecedented results: 99.7% of the HIV virus was destroyed in only three weeks of treatment. The drug, developed by Prof. Zeev Stegar of Zion Medical, will be tested at the beginning of next year in several hospitals in Africa.
Called by Kaplan a “breakthrough drug,” Gammora is said to eliminate the HIV virus using a new approach to destruction of the cells that carry the HIV genome – based on unique peptides derived from the integrase protein. This protein is expressed by the HIV virus and is required for viral induction. Instead of producing one copy of the viral DNA, it produces many copies, which are inserted into the infected cell and activate the mechanisms of cell self-destruction in a process called “apoptosis.”
A special survey conducted by the AIDS Task Force presented worrisome data on public awareness of HIV testing, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV-positive life. The survey, which was conducted on 500 adult interviewees representing a national sample of the Hebrew-speaking Jewish population, showed a lack of public awareness and much ignorance, stigma and fear of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV in particular.
About a quarter of the respondents said they would agree to work with people living with HIV only on conditions that the patient took medication. Those aged 55 and above expressed greater agreement to work with an HIV-positive partner than those aged 18 to 43.
About one-third of the respondents believed that people living with HIV can serve in the IDF, but in restrictive conditions, while 1.31% believe they cannot serve at all because they pose a danger to the other soldiers. It is important to note that HIV carriers can serve as soldiers in the IDF.
One in eight people was not at all bothered by the possibility of receiving a positive response from HIV testing. One in five would be afraid to reveal the “secret” and one in three would fear telling their family and friends. A quarter of respondents, especially those with less than a full high school education, fear that if they became infected with HIV, they would die. Studies have shown, however, that the lifespan of HIV-positive people who take their medications as instructed can have about the same lifespan as those who have not been infected.
Meanwhile, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said over the weekend that as the HIV epidemic has evolved over the years, the most vulnerable, marginalized communities and individuals have been disproportionately affected.
“We have achieved much in the past 30 years. Today, 21 million people are receiving antiretroviral therapy that is enabling them to live full and productive lives. Every day, fewer people are becoming infected with HIV and fewer people are dying. But these successes are masking the many disparities and challenges that persist,” he said. “On this World AIDS Day we are here to remind you that ‘Everybody Counts.’”