HIV rate rises sharply among gay men in Israel

2010 data: One fifth of the 2,000 gay men who participated in a study did not use condoms during the previous six months.

Among the 420 newly diagnosed cases of HIV in Israel in 2010, 148 of them were homosexual men, according to the Health Ministry, which is worried about the “dramatic increase” in infection among gay men. They constituted half of all men who were newly diagnosed.

The ministry released figures to mark World AIDS Day, December 1.

They were collected by Dr. Zohar Mor, adviser to the head of public health services for tuberculosis and AIDS in the Health Ministry, and the voluntary organization Hoshen. The figures were four times higher than the figures of HIV-infected men in 2000.

According to 2010 data, a fifth of the 2,000 gay men who participated in a study did not use condoms during the previous six months.

This was the same rate as in 2000.

The fact that HIV/AIDS is increasingly regarded as a chronic rather than a fatal disease has produced laxity in protection among highrisk groups. A minority of patients die of AIDS due to the more effective AIDS “cocktail” of drugs provided at government expense, Mor said. Others who are infected are heterosexuals, drug users and people who originated in countries where AIDS is endemic.

In Israel, between 1981, when the virus was discovered, until the end of 2010, a total of 6,579 cases of HIV and full-blown AIDS were diagnosed. Of those diagnosed, 1,330 died or left the country.

Thus, 5,249 HIV carriers and AIDS patients live here today.

The ministry stresses the need for condom use on websites frequented by homosexuals. It said Monday it is looking into the possibility of finding money to subsidize anti-HIV medications for foreigners who lack health insurance and those who are not living here legally.

The network of AIDS testing centers was significantly changed in the last year, as the centers began to use the “fourth-generation” kit, which shortens the “window” of time between infection and when the virus shows up in the blood to just seven weeks.

People who identify themselves are tested in health funds and hospital HIV centers, but in the past year, people who did not want to identify themselves were able to get tested in the ministry’s sex clinics, the clinic of the Israel AIDS Task Force and the Open House in Jerusalem. Speedy tests that provide an answer in 20 minutes are also available.

As for drug users, a needleexchange program to avoid HIV, and hepatitis B and C, has entered its fifth year. There are five such exchange centers in the country.

Rambam Medical Center in Haifa said that since today, people with AIDS live longer, preparations are being made to help patients that have reached the age of pension. At its clinical immunology institute, there are a number of HIV/AIDS patients aged 65 and over. The oldest is 69. The fact that carriers live longer also tends to increase the number of people infected.

On December 1, volunteers and AIDS clinic doctors in Haifa will go to nearby Israel Railways stations and perform blood tests for those who want them. Condoms and information booklets will also be distributed.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and the Israel AIDS Task Force, among others, will hold a marathon of free HIV testing on Friday between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Friday at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv. An ID card must be shown.

More information on HIV/AIDS is available from the website .

by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich – The Jerusalem Post