Has the AIDS Cocktail Worked Too Well in Israel?

Many in the medical community think the success of AIDS treatments have caused many to no longer fear HIV.

Raya Yaheni-Henri, Haaretz Correspondent
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Raya Yaheni-Henri, Haaretz Correspondent

"R" immigrated to Israel in 1988 at the age of 22. Shortly thereafter, he began to suffer from fever, shortness of breath, and rapid weight loss. He was then diagnosed with Pneumocystis, a form of lung infection that often indicates the presence of HIV.

Over the coming years, every moment that R's life seemed to be reaching the end, a new form of treatment would come along that would give him a new lease on life.

Around the time that R first underwent treatment for AIDS, the anti-HIV drug AZT arrived in Israel, allowing R to recover, and even register for university, at the same time he began suffering from anemia and weakness brought on by the treatment. Three years later, R's condition again worsened, he contracted pneumonia an additional time and his immune system had reached it's weakest point ever.

In 1991, the drug didanosine came to Israel, and R began taking it in addition to AZT. The drug caused R to develop an infection in his pancreas, but he managed to finish his studies, find a job in his field of studies, and begin a romantic relationship.

Five years later, R found himself again suffering from severe weight loss and fever, and doctors found that his immune system had collapsed completely, causing them to lose hope that his life could be saved.

That same month, the "AIDS cocktail" made it to Israel, and shortly after he began taking the drug treatment, his condition improved dramatically, and he was able to return to work.

As International AIDS Day approaches on December 1st, a concerted effort has been launched to educate Israelis about the dangers of the disease and the need to practice safe sex. For many in the medical community, part of this message will be that while the disease has become more treatable, life with HIV is many times more difficult than life without it.

To many in the medical community the success of drugs in treating the symptoms of AIDS and extending the lives of sufferers, have been almost too succesfull, and have caused many to view the disease as simply another chronic disease that can be treated and lived with.

In Israel, around 350 people become infected with HIV each year, and medical services know of around 6,000 people who carry the virus. Medical authorities fear the number of carriers in Israel is far higher, and that most do not know that they have been infected.

And for those who do carry the virus, there is an additional symptom that no drug can help - the way society looks down upon them, and the stigma the disease holds.



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