A Health Ministry plan to stop paying for anonymous HIV testing in order to encourage people to identify themselves when being tested has drawn fire from HIV/AIDS specialists in the medical community.
Under the ministry’s plan, people who identify themselves when taking the test would not need to pay for it, but people who prefer to remain anonymous would pay NIS 20.
The head of the ministry’s department of tuberculosis and AIDS, Dr. Zohar Mor, reported on the plan recently to a professional association comprising 60 physicians and other medical professionals who care for HIV/AIDS patients.
The ministry has long disapproved of anonymous testing for HIV, due to concern that it enables people diagnosed as HIV carriers to disappear without treatment or follow-up. So far, however, there has been only one known case of this happening in Israel, when a person who tested positive in Jerusalem was never subsequently located.
Mor also said the ministry intended to require that HIV testing take place only in medical facilities where a doctor is on duty to supervise.
Most HIV testing is currently performed by laboratory technicians at either health maintenance organization clinics or hospitals, both of which do have doctors on duty. But this rule would make it difficult to continue testing at other facilities that do not necessarily have a doctor on the premises. The office of the AIDS Task Force, for instance, offers an anonymous test with results in 30 minutes, and the sexually transmitted disease clinics in Tel Aviv and Haifa both do testing as well.
Dr. Itzchak Levy of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, who chairs the association of AIDS specialists, was one of those who protested the plan at the meeting with Mor.
“Doctors hope the heads of the Health Ministry will intervene immediately in this matter,” he said. “The last regulations for testing were put in place 15 years ago, and it is very important to adjust them for the changes that have occurred since then. Instead, we were presented with a embarrassing draft of a plan that does not conform to the directives issued by professional associations worldwide and takes testing in Israel back several decades.”
The director general of the Israel AIDS Task Force, Yonatan Karni, concurred. “The Task Force, which was a pioneer in quick anonymous testing in Israel, has conveyed its objections to the draft of the plan as presented to us,” he said. “This plan which, at least according to its declared purpose, is supposed to encourage people to be tested actually contains negative incentives both for those being tested and for organizations carrying out the testing.”
The Health Ministry said it “views HIV/AIDS testing as very important, especially for at-risk groups. To attain this goal, the ministry encourages voluntary testing for HIV to identify carriers at an early stage so as to enable follow-up and treatment. To this end, the ministry’s experts have formulated draft regulations that refine the policy of HIV/AIDS testing in Israel to encourage more people in at-risk groups to be tested while removing possible obstacles. The proposal has been conveyed to the director general for approval.”