First day of December is the World AIDS Day.
There are lots of people in the world dying everyday from this plague of the 21st century. It doesn't discriminate against poor or rich. It's everywhere, from the richest neighborhoods in Europe to poorest slums of South Africa. It's such a strange and frightening disease that sometimes people stop thinking about it as a disease and start to wrap it in different layers of mystery.
Some statesmen have even denied the very basic scientific facts about it, perhaps to prevent public panic. The most notorious of these claims came from South African president, Mr. Mbeki, who publicly denied any relation between HIV virus and AIDS. He has openly declared that in his opinion the real cause of AIDS is malnutrition and that the pharmaceutical companies are trying to trick Africans to buy their antiretrovirals , the family of drugs that are the main weapons in helping the patients cope with their presently incurable disease, merely to gain money. As a result of his beliefs more and more South Africans are getting infected everyday*.
This brings the question to mind: Where does Iran stand in this world-wide epidemy? What are the policies against the spread of HIV? How many people have died of it and how many are getting infected every year?
Nobody really knows the exact answer to these questions. There are no real statistics on this, except for the people with special blood disorders like Hemophilia, that have used imported infected blood products** . The reported number is around 4000 and the official estimate is around 20,000, which seems far too optimistic.
With no real information and no prevention policy (although it should be mentioned that now the Blood Transfusion Center does perform the normal test on blood products, the very reason for the first cases), the future doesn’t look that bright. It looks even gloomier when you remember that there are certain issues that nobody is talking about and they are the most important factors in spreading the deadly disease.
Everybody knows that sex is one of the few different channels of getting infected (apart from blood and some other bodily fluids), but speaking about sex is a taboo in Iran. There is no such thing as sexual education in a country with a baby-boomer generation that is now in their twenties. Prostitution is becoming a bigger problem than ever. (Based on official figures, there are some 300,000 women who work as prostitutes in Iran).
Iran is not South Africa, but if their government is denying the disease and lying about it, ours is withholding the truth. The result is the same. People would lose lives.
* The New Yorker magazine published a very intersting detailed article about South Africa's struggle with HIV/AIDS on it's May 19, 2003 issue.
** Iranian Hemophilia Society, IHS, has been very active in trying to get some comensation for the victims losses. They even tried to take the people responsible for importing the infected blood products to court, but the influence of some of the people at risk (According to the rumors Dr. Marandi the former minister of Health was among the suspects) stopped the further investigations. But the IHS used the publicity they gained and their victim status to become one of the strongest institutions to defend HIV patients rights.
*** For some more information, see BBC Persian's report on AIDS and Iran.