As asylum-seekers and migrant workers are not classed as Israeli citizens, some NGOs, including Israel AIDS Task Force, argue that they get a raw deal and have to rely on donations. Drugs for treating HIV patients are very expensive in Israel.
“People living with HIV are often not aware of their status. One cannot ignore a population of some 300,000 [migrant workers and asylum-seekers]. A proper solution must be ensured [to provide access to AIDS services to those who need it]," said Arik Milman, a spokesperson for Israel AIDS Task Force.
Most asylum-seekers are from Sudan, Eritrea, Thailand, Philippines and China - all countries with low HIV prevalence. In Sudan, the infection rate for people aged 15-49 is 1.4 percent and in Eritrea 1.3 percent, according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The Israeli Ministry of Health (MoH) says HIV testing is free for everybody, including non-citizens, and treatment is provided for all Israeli citizens by the national health service. It says all HIV-positive patients who are Israeli citizens are protected by law from any discrimination.
Einav Shimron-Greenbaum, the MoH spokesperson, told IRIN: "HIV tests are free for all. The right to medical care is derived from the citizen status as determined by the Ministry of Interior."
"HIV-positive pregnant women [migrant workers and asylum-seekers] have the right to free medical care during pregnancy and after birth. [HIV positive] children of migrant workers can be insured through Mehuchedet [a health insurer] and receive full medical care," Shimron-Greenbaum said.
Whether adequate services are there are not, the issue is to build trust through proper advocacy and access. Asylum-seekers and migrants tend to be unaware of free testing and there is currently no campaign to raise awareness of the services available, according to activists.
Some 40 asylum-seekers and foreign migrant workers receive treatment from Task Force and another 80 are on the waiting list. Medical care provided by Task Force is totally dependent on donations and the goodwill of doctors and hospitals.
Rising number of HIV cases
Meanwhile, a new MoH report published on 30 November said some 390 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Israel in 2008. On average 350 new cases were recorded every year from 2004 to 2007.
There are currently 4,525 registered HIV cases in Israel, and MoH estimates that some 6,300 more are living with HIV and unaware of their status.
According to Task Force director Jonathan Karni, 30 percent of Israel's population of 7,465,000 have been tested for HIV, indicating high awareness generally, although he attributed the rise in cases to the lack of national investment in prevention and awareness-raising.
"We urge the public to take responsibility, use condoms and test for HIV,'' Karni said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions