UN official: Yishai wrong, African migrant AIDS rate low

Shas leader claims there is an epidemic of infectious disease among African infiltrators in Israel, UN dismisses claim.

Eli Yishai 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Eli Yishai 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
There is no widespread phenomenon of AIDS among African migrants in Israel and only a small number of them has been identified as carriers of HIV, the UN’s William Tall said on Thursday.
Tall, the representative in Israel of the UN High Commission for Refugees, spoke after Interior Minister Eli Yishai claimed that Israeli women are not reporting rapes at the hands of African migrants, so that people won’t think they have AIDS.
Tall said that when African migrants arrive at Israeli-run detention facilities in the South for processing, they are tested for tuberculosis, HIV and other diseases, and that there have only been 150 confirmed cases of HIV among the some 60,000 African migrants and asylumseekers living in Israel.
On Thursday, Ma’ariv printed an article in which Yishai said that dozens of women had been raped by “infiltrators” in south Tel Aviv in recent months and had decided not to go to police out of fear that people would think they had AIDS.
“Many women in Tel Aviv are raped by foreigners and are afraid to complain so that they won’t have to deal with the stigma of carrying AIDS,” Yishai said, adding that there was an epidemic of infectious disease among the African migrants in Israel.
In regard to Yishai’s statements to Ma’ariv, Tall said, “The government treats them as asylum-seekers, not through their public statements, but through their policies by not deporting them.”
Tall added that the UNHCR is working with the Health Ministry to secure HIV treatment for the 150 or so cases among the Africans, but had been told that doing so would be difficult in the current political climate.
The majority of illegal African migrants in Israel are from Eritrea in the horn of Africa, while most of the rest come from Sudan. Both countries have HIV prevalence rates of less than 1 percent according to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, among the lowest in Africa. For comparison, the small country of Swaziland in southern Africa has an HIV prevalence of 25.9%, the highest in the world.
According to an article published by the Health Ministry in March, foreign workers and African migrants have accounted for 13% of tuberculosis cases and 17% of HIV cases in Israel over the past decade, and only 5% of Israelis who contracted HIV since 1981 did so through sex with a foreigner.
The report says the figures represent only a small minority of the foreign population in Israel, and that the likelihood of an Israeli citizen catching TB from a foreigner is very unlikely, in that it would require at least eight hours of exposure to an infected person in a closed room, and even then it wouldn’t be certain.
Therefore, the report says most TB transmissions are from foreigner to foreigner.
The report also asserts that more often than not those who migrate to Israel are a “selfselected population,” which is healthier on average than the general population of the country they come from, because they need to be healthier to deal with the stress and physical difficulties inherent in the migration process.
Ran Cohen, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – which runs a free clinic in Jaffa for migrants and other people lacking legal status in Israel – says that out of the population of 250,000 foreigners in Israel they have only opened 180 HIV cases.
Cohen said that most of the people they treat are suffering from minor illnesses just like the general population, or from injuries sustained while being trafficked and in some cases held for hostage and tortured in the Sinai Peninsula.
“This statement by Eli Yishai hurts years of efforts to fight the stigma of AIDS and HIV and it has returned us to the 1980s, to the fear of people with AIDS, that is a disease that people can get in the air or that you can deal with it, and he’s returning us to this stigma,” Cohen added.
Also Thursday, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said that the Health Ministry wants to be compensated by the government for spending over NIS 50 million a year in medical treatment for illegal migrants.
At a ceremony on Thursday in honor of two officials who are leaving the ministry, Litzman said that this comes at the expense of low-income Israelis.
“Ministry subsidization for this must be stopped,” said Litzman, who called on the Treasury to allocate special funds if it wants to provide medical care to the refugees. “It is a heavy burden on [public] hospital budgets. There is no reason why Israeli citizens have to pay such a heavy price.”
Judy Siegel contributed to this report.