Recent years have seen a trend of declining numbers of new HIV diagnoses. However, there has been a concomitant increase in alarming symptoms related to this high-risk group.
December 1, 2020 marked the observance of World AIDS Day, which highlights the international battle against HIV, shows support for people living with AIDS, and commemorates those who were lost to this devastating illness. Despite this year’s widespread increase in morbidity due to the coronavirus pandemic, the AIDS Institute of Rambam Health Care Campus reports good news – for the second year in a row, the number of new AIDS cases has continued to decline, which is consistent with international trends.
According to data from Rambam’s AIDS Institute, as of December 1, 2020, 127 new patients were admitted to the Institute – a number that includes both AIDS patients and individuals who are HIV-positive. This number reflects a substantial decline from the 141 new patients admitted in 2019. Rambam notes that in 2008, 66 new patients were admitted to the hospital's AIDS Institute. In 2017, this figure rose to 136, and in 2018, the figure continued to increase – by the end of September, 134 new patients had already been admitted to the Institute.
World AIDS Day in Israel has focused attention on the debate over whether to include an HIV blood test in the set of standard blood tests currently given to pregnant women. This test is commonly administered to pregnant women in many Western countries but has not yet become standard in Israel. "Every year, between two and three HIV-positive babies are born in Israel to mothers who did not know they were carriers," says Dr. Einat Kedem, a Senior Physician in Rambam’s Immunology, Allergy and AIDS Unit, who supervises pediatric HIV and the pregnancies of HIV-positive women. Dr. Kedem states, “A simple blood test would allow us to monitor the health of these HIV-positive mothers, and with the help of wonderful treatments now available, they can give birth to healthy AIDS-free babies. No baby should be born with this disease if it can be prevented.”
From a Fatal Disease to a Chronic Disease
"AIDS no longer kills,” declares Dr. Eduardo Shachar, Director of the Rambam AIDS Institute. "AIDS has now become a chronic disease, thanks to the drug revolution and groundbreaking studies done in recent years. The COVID-19 epidemic we live with today is in many ways reminiscent of the first few years after the AIDS outbreak. The uncertainty, stigmas, and treatment challenges were part of our world 30 or 40 years ago. But today, in the case of AIDS, we are in a completely different place."
According to Dr. Shachar, the ability to successfully treat AIDS has created a problem. "Today we see new carriers among groups previously unaffected by the disease, and where the level of awareness is low. We also see high-risk populations with a high degree of awareness who have become less cautious because of the availability of treatments, and the fact that many people are successfully living with AIDS. In a sense, we are victims of our own success in combatting the disease.”
So why do we continue to raise awareness of a disease that is no longer life-threatening? "The consistent downward trends in the number of people infected with AIDS is certainly welcome news and I hope these trends will continue in the coming years,” explains Dr. Shachar, adding, “This is the result of a combination of factors: increased awareness, groundbreaking research and effective treatments. But in order to realize the dream of a world free of AIDS, people, and especially pregnant women, must be tested. One simple and reliable blood test can lead to early detection and save lives."