Israel to give out preventative HIV meds for at-risk populations
A medication, called PrEP, acts as an efficient protective agent against HIV infection when taken regularly; 'It has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that those who persisted in preventative HIV medication were protected from the illness,' says an AIDS expert.
Joining the US and Europe, Israel steps up its fight against HIV/AIDS. To counter the illness, the Health Ministry will begin a pilot in which it will distribute preventative medication to members of at-risk populations in one month’s time. The effectiveness of the pilot will determine whether the medication will permanently be given to those belonging to at-risk populations via the subsidized, national health program.
The brand name drug for PrEP that has undergone the most trials is Truvada, which combines the tenofovir and emtricitabine drugs. This combination acts to prevent the HIV virus from multiplying and spreading throughout the body. It is administered through several different protocols, at times taken once a day, and at time three times a week.
PrEP has been covered by all US health insurance companies for all individuals belonging to at-risk populations since 2012. Canada, France, Norway and South Africa have also all approved it, and several other European countries are planning to approve it soon.
Currently, any at-risk individual in Israel can request a PrEP prescription from an AIDS physician and purchase it privately, for NIS 3,000 a month. The medication is also given at emergency rooms in cases where there is concern of HIV infection from unprotected sexual relations.
The current pilot will focus on several at-risk groups; namely, it will sample homosexual men having unprotected sex with multiple partners, couples where one of the partners is HIV positive, drug addicts and prostitutes. The Health Ministry will monitor the progress of the pilot, and based on its prevention of infection rate, will decide whether to provide it to at-risk individuals at large by adding it to the national health basket.
‘The treatment was found to be highly efficient’
Kaplan Hospital AIDS Treatment and Research Center Head Prof. Ze’ev Steger sees a social dilemma in deciding whether to add the medication to the health basket. “There’s an ethical and philosophical question here: should a society spend money because someone did not use a condom and was subsequently infected with HIV?” However, he notes, “You could ask the same question regarding smokers who came down with lung cancer, where we do not lay responsibility for preventing illness, but rather try to prevent it from happening.” He stated that “In addition to education and using a condom, PrEP was found to be highly efficient.”
In fact, said Steger, “It has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that those who persisted in preventative HIV medication were protected from the illness. The (preventative) treatment is expensive and can reach thousands of shekels a month, but treating HIV could reach millions of shekels over the course of a carrier and patient’s lifetime. So in terms of cost, the preventative measures are undoubtedly preferable.”
Watch: an educational video published by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention on taking PrEP.