The number of gay men in Israel with HIV is on the rise, according to data released this week ahead of World AIDS Day, which is observed today. Israel's health care system plans to address the trend by introducing streamlined HIV examinations next year.
In 2009, 382 new cases of HIV infection among gay men were reported in Israel. In 2008, 390 new cases among gay men were reported. Both figures are higher than the average annual figure for HIV incidence among homosexual males in Israel between 2005-2009, which stood at 360.
"I am worried about the increase in the number of men who have contracted HIV from having sex with other men," Health Ministry director general Dr. Roni Gamzu told Haaretz. "It is wrong that the improvement in medicinal treatment of the virus is leading to carelessness, in terms of unprotected sexual relations - even in cases where the partners are not strangers."
Blood tests to check for HIV are conducted free of charge in seven HIV/AIDS detection centers runs by HMOs and hospitals in Israel, with the support of the Health Ministry. In 2009, these centers conducted a total of 280,000 HIV tests, the highest figure seen in the past decade.
Under Gamzu's direction, in 2011 the health care system will introduce faster HIV detection exams, as Haaretz reported earlier this year. The streamlined exams can determine within 20-30 minutes whether a person is carrying the HIV virus. At present, it takes between three days to two weeks before results are available for exams conducted in hospitals and HMO clinics.
Following recommendations submitted by a professional committee to top officials in the Health Ministry, the new HIV test will initially be used in tandem with the current test, in order to verify the accuracy of this speedier exam.
Between 1981 and the end of 2009, a total of 6,147 new cases of HIV were recorded in Israel. Of this total, 1,104 died of AIDS and 173 left the country.
Up through the end of 2009, 4,870 persons were known to be living with the HIV virus in Israel. Estimates hold that there are 7,000 such persons today.
In a Health Ministry survey conducted on a sampling of 400 youths from around the country, one-fifth attested to already having full sexual relations. Of those, 30% reported that they did not use condoms.
Health Ministry officials plan to run an extensive campaign this year among youths on condoms.
World AIDS Day activities include a new campaign to encourage homosexual men to take HIV tests. Last week, a report released by the United Nations' program on HIV/AIDS cited data that showed a precedent-setting reduction in the spread of HIV. Despite this decline, the disease continues to be devastating. World Health Organization estimates indicate that 33.3 million people in the world today are living with the HIV virus. In 2009, according to the WHO, 2.6 million new cases of AIDS were reported around the world.
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