Israeli Pilot Program Will Provide Free HIV-Prevention Medication to At-Risk Groups

The Israeli Health Ministry will begin a pilot program next month that will provide free HIV-prevention medication to at-risk population groups.

In February, the Health Ministry approved the drug Truvada, which reduces the chance of HIV infection. Currently, Israelis can purchase the drug privately for around 3,000 shekels per month after receiving a prescription. The pilot program will start offering it for free to groups with an elevated risk of contracting HIV: gay 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,” Ynet reported, “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 list of drugs whose costs are covered by the government and subsidized HMOs.

“It has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that those who persisted in preventative HIV medication were protected from the illness,” Prof. Ze’ev Steger, the head of the Kaplan Hospital AIDS Treatment and Research Center, told Ynet. “The 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.”

Truvada has been approved for use in the U.S. since 2012. A three-year study of 657 individuals in San Francisco with high risk of contracting HIV found that not a single person who took Truvada ended up contracting the disease. A similar study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that taking Truvada reduced the risk of contraction by 92 percent.

Israel has a similar HIV rate to San Francisco, The Jerusalem Post reported earlier this year, though rates are declining; 148 new HIV patients were reported in 2014, compared to 163 the year before, according to the Health Ministry.

[Photo: Jeffrey Beall / Wikimedia]