HIV infections up, awareness of AIDS down in Israel

HIV infections up, aware

AIDS ribbons 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
AIDS ribbons 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Some 390 Israeli residents were diagnosed with HIV last year out of some 2.7 million cases around the world, according to Health Ministry statistics released on the eve of World AIDS Day, being marked on December 1. The Israeli annual average of new cases was 350 between 2004 and the end of 2007, thus the figure has risen somewhat. A total of 33 million people around the world, mostly in Africa, are living with the virus. In 2007, two million people died of AIDS. Since Israel documented its first case in 1981 until last year, a total of 5,751 new cases have been diagnosed. Of these, 1,226 died or left the country, leaving an official total of 4,525 people living here with HIV or full-blown AIDS. However, based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the ministry estimates that there are in fact 6,374 people here who have the incurable virus. For most of those receiving the "cocktail" of antiretroviral drugs, HIV has become a chronic disease rather than a fatal one. The rate of HIV/AIDS in Israel is 52.8 cases per million residents, which is quite low compared to rates in Western Europe. The Israel AIDS Task Force estimates that in 2009, the figure of those diagnosed with HIV will reach 400. Since a month ago, the number of those diagnosed had already reached 390. For the first time, it said, there will be a significant decline in HIV carriers among immigrants from Ethiopia, as they are well treated here and the number of new immigrants from the African country has greatly declined. Every day around the world, at least 7,400 people are diagnosed with HIV, and one of them is Israeli. About 1,200 of those diagnosed each day are children under the age of 15, and 48% of are women. A poll conducted by the task force found that 85.8% of Israelis think HIV screening should be included among recommended screening tests for all pregnant women; 77.6% believe the state should provide free or subsidized HIV tests with the answers available in 30 minutes. A quarter of all Israelis who have sex with a non-regular partner admitted they do not use a condom. A fifth of Israelis who said they had sex with a non-regular partner said they did not use a condom because they used contraceptive pills (which do not protect against HIV). Eighteen percent who answered the Mutagim poll said (erroneously) one can get infected with HIV from a kiss, while 11% said that drinking from the same cup or using cutlery used by a carrier is enough to infect you. Nearly 10% claimed one could get HIV from a cat scratch and almost as many thought a mosquito bite spreads HIV. Free blood tests are available in Israeli health fund clinics and in AIDS centers in hospitals, all of them funded by the ministry. In addition, all blood donations are tested for HIV. The number of medications for treating HIV/AIDS in the basket of health services is among the broadest in the world. A new study conducted at Sheba Medical Center found that 35 percent of HIV carriers in Israel are diagnosed at a late stage that endangers their lives. Dr. Itzik Levy, head of the venereal disease clinic at the hospital, checked all the cases of its 258 diagnosed patients since 1988 and found that more than a third of the cases, 91, were diagnosed when the patients' immune systems were already compromised so that the medications were not as effective in keeping the virus under control. Such patients typically were not born in Israel, are women, suffer from a psychiatric illness, are heterosexual and have a low educational level. He also found that if one is a heterosexual man over the age of 48, he has a high risk of having been infected with HIV without knowing it. Sheba is currently treating three male HIV carriers, all of them with serious respiratory illness, two of them attached to a respirator. This is occurring not only in Israel but in other countries as well. Due to the high cost of medical care for HIV/AIDS patients, national health organizations in the US, Canada and the EU have called for HIV screening in people at high risk for the virus. They are homosexuals; drug abusers; former prisoners; people who arrived from Africa, the Ukraine and Southeast Asia; and people who have had sex with someone in these previous categories. Women should be screened for the disease at the beginning of a pregnancy, and, if they are at risk, should have another test during the third trimester, the task force said. Israel has not yet adopted such recommendations, but the Sheba researcher recommends that this be done. Sheba will open its venereal disease clinic to the public on Tuesday (between 8.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.) for free HIV tests and personal consultation with doctors and nurses; they will also test for other diseases transmitted by sexual contact, either free or at reduced cost. The ministry's annual AIDS awareness campaign will be held on Tuesday, with the general population targeted. It will include advertising on Web sites frequented by young people and others at high risk of HIV infection. A moving film named Beyond the River, presenting the story of Moshe Rahamim, an early immigrant from Ethiopia who aims to save the Jews there from AIDS, will be broadcast at several cinematheques around the country and on Channel 10 at 2 p.m. on December 4. It will air at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Tuesday at 5.50 p.m. and at 6 p.m. at the Rosh Pina Cinematheque, and at the Ozen Hashlishit in Jerusalem on Tuesday at 9 p.m., on December 9 at 7:30 p.m. and on December 23 at 7:30 p.m. On Monday at 10 p.m., the eve of World AIDS Day, the Rock4Life concert will be held at the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv to benefit the Israel AIDS Task Force. The NIS 50 ticket provides a seat for performances by Rami Fortis, Asaf Avidan, David Broza, Yael Dekelbaum, Noam Rotem and others. Free HIV tests will be offered outside. Donations can be made by sending an SMS with the number 10 to 6789. This year, IDF soldiers will receive a free booklet from the task force with explanations about AIDS and how to avoid it, as well as a total of 30,000 condoms.