HIV on the Rise in Israel, Breaking Consistent Decline Since 2013

Increase evident among gay community, women and immigrants from former Soviet Union, expert says

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A red ribbon is put on the sleeve of a man to show support for people living with HIV on World AIDS Day.
A red ribbon is put on the sleeve of a man to show support for people living with HIV on World AIDS Day. Credit: REUTERS
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The number of new HIV carriers in Israel rose from 361 in 2016 to 405 in 2017, according to data from the Health Ministry’s National HIV Testing Laboratory. From 2013 until last year, the number of new carriers had been dropping each year.

The medical system and the Aids Task Force find it difficult to explain the upswing despite ongoing efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. According to Dr. Yuval Livnat, director of the AIDS Task Force, it could be explained by an increase in the number of those being tested. It is difficult to examine this hypothesis, however, since the Health Ministry does not keep track of the number of people tested.

“We made preliminary inquiries to the HMOs and the information indicates that there is an increase in the number of people who are being tested,” Livnat said. However, he says that this alone could not explain the shift.

Another possibility is complacency among at-risk populations, especially gays, given that there are now treatments available, including drugs that reduce the chances of contracting the virus. “One cannot be complacent about HIV infection,” Livnat said. “The disease is not behind us, it is still with us. Even if there is effective treatment, it is still a chronic disease and we have to do everything not to get infected, so we must call for the use of condoms.”

According to the data, 72% of those infected in 2017 are men, and the highest numbers of infected people were from the 35-44 and 24-34 age groups. Along with 146 gay men, 80 are from countries with high risk of contracting the disease (endemic countries), 30 are drug users, 87 are heterosexuals and 57 were not classified as being in any group.

The Health Ministry, the Aids Task Force and the Iggy gay youth organization are working to prevent new contagion among gays. The programs include encouraging HIV testing and condom distribution.

HIV test carried out by the Israel AIDS Taskforce, 2016Credit: Nir Kafri

Dr. Margalit Lorber, an HIV expert, said, “The increase is evident among the gay community, women and immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The data are before the [introduction of] PrEP, and we are working to raise awareness among the gay community and to increase HIV testing for the entire Israeli population. There is no doubt that early detection is beneficial for the carrier himself and society as a whole.”

PrEP is a prophylactic treatment given before exposure to those in high-risk groups. The treatment is also given to those who have already been infected with HIV. Since September the treatment is available through the HMOs.

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