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ISRAEL: More awareness needed as HIV infection rises

Photo: Israel AIDS Task Force
"Sex with a condom - Life without HIV"
Tel Aviv, 7 July 2008 (PlusNews) - HIV may be a relatively small problem in Israel, but the soaring rate of new infections among vulnerable populations has forced health officials to take action.

According to the Israel AIDS Task Force (IATF), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) providing HIV/AIDS education and support among men who have sex with men (MSM), the proportion who contracted HIV had shot up by 67 percent between 2006 and 2007.

This "worrying increase" had been recorded among young people aged 18 to 25, said Gideon Hirsch, a medical doctor and director of IATF. He warned that the actual increase could even be higher, as accurate statistics were hard to come by. Vulnerable groups such as sex workers, intravenous drug users, and MSM are most at risk.
HIV prevalence in Israel is less than 0.2 percent, with the UN estimating that 4,000 people were living with the virus by the end of 2005, but experts have warned that the HIV caseload is growing.

Although the number of cases increased by some 50 percent since 2004, this amounts to only some 360 new cases detected in 2007 in a national population verging on seven million.
Prevention work needed

Despite the low figures, the IATF has called for more work to be done in raising HIV awareness. "The government's investment in prevention is less than five [US] cents per capita," Hirsch told IRIN/PlusNews. "This is next to nothing."
While Israel is a country with liberal leanings, homosexuality is still controversial. For example, attempts to hold a low-key annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem are regularly met with fierce objections from powerful religious groups, including the mayor. 

Photo: Israel AIDS Task Force
Volunteers of the IATF distributing materials during the gay pride parade in Tel Aviv.
Dr Daniel Chemtob, of Israel's Ministry of Health, told IRIN/PlusNews that the government has taken risky steps to promote the use of condoms, especially among gays. "We found that incidents of unprotected sex among MSM increased when drugs and alcohol were involved," he said in an interview.
"We ran a campaign saying 'If you use drugs, use a condom', for which we got a large amount of complaints," because the ministry was accused of condoning drug use. But Chemtob insisted that unless the ads spoke the same language as the target audience they were pointless.
The IATF offers people the chance to be tested discreetly and given same-day results, said Hirsch, who is HIV positive and often delivers the test results to clients.
Because antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are now available to Israelis via the national health care system, HIV is no longer regarded as a death sentence, but this also misleads young people into thinking there is no longer a need to take preventative steps, said Chemtob.

Theme (s): Gender - PlusNews, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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