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November 21, 2003

Iran versus HIV
Elnaz Alipour  [info|posts]

aids.jpg 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.

Somayeh Sadat at November 21, 2003 08:06 AM [permalink]:

I want to add a point. Unfortunately, the addiction policies in Iran have not been wise. The addicts for years have been identified as criminals, instead of victims, and put in jail. While this was supposed to deter people from getting into addiction, which a more realistic view could show that it's not usually a choice made by people, the policy had the counter effect of addicts running away from the government officials and not seek rehabilitation. It also had the counter effect of getting the other family members of the addicts into smuggling and addiction, since the family lost its bread winner when they were put in jail. Therefore the other family members had to get into smuggling and later on addiction, to earn money.
So, during years, the number of addicts just increased. And these addicts, though I guess they are not now legally considered as criminals, usually do not seek government rehabiliation support. They prefer to be left alone. And once they have spent all their money, no wonder, they will start sharing needles, and HIV/AIDS spreads further.
Addiction is not a taboo subject in Iran, and government already knows the facts. But they are still searching to arrest the smugglers (and if they had enough room in their jails, maybe they wished to arrest the addicts as well!), while they should be focusing on stopping the HIV/AIDS spread through shared needles. It shouldn't be costly or non-operational to provide free needles to public. It's definitely more important than providing free "eftari" to Tehran citizens by the current mayor!

yahya at November 21, 2003 07:29 PM [permalink]:

South Africa has changed its stance against AIDS. This was announced two days ago.

Elnaz at November 21, 2003 08:00 PM [permalink]:

It was about time.
That's great.

Also among developing countries Brazil's stance against AIDS is very mature and interesting.see this for an example

hazhir at November 22, 2003 07:32 PM [permalink]:

Government in Iran has kept a low profile in addressing AIDS in public. Nevertheless, there has been some interesting initiatives, specially through grass-root initiatives by Doctors, which are encouraging. These include preparing material for sex education (even though the call for public dissemination is not yet met), giving free, clean needle to drug addicts in prisons and recently in towns, and calling on doctors not to reject AIDS patients.
So far AIDS in Iran has been mainly passed through needle sharing (~65% of cases) rather than sex (~15% of cases). Note that apart from serious addiction problem, biologically AIDS is much better transmitted through niddle sharing, than through unsafe sex (the risk per occurance of unsafe behavior is about 100 times different) Nevertheless, considering the increasing prostitution challenge, and the correlation of prostitution and addiction, the risk profile can be shifting.

A Reader at November 24, 2003 08:16 AM [permalink]:

Somewhere ,may be in one of the official US sites, I read that the percentage of HIV infected people in US is 6% and in Italy 4% in Jamaica [?] 26%. The coressponding statistic for Iran was below 0.1 percent.

Having read these datas I am wondering if HIV causes a big problem now or not.
how much big is the rate of HIV-spread in Iran? Anyone could provid some statistic?

Senior Grad at November 24, 2003 09:57 AM [permalink]:

Could you at least provide a pseudonym when you write a comment? I just grow more frustrated than Iranian mullahs (who miserably failed in bringing up a generation of mosque-going, prayer-fast-etc. observing, not to mention khums-giving Iranians) when I read a comment by a nameless individual.


hazhir at November 24, 2003 08:07 PM [permalink]:

The nameless commentators estimate is the same as that of CIA's factbook: [LINK]

You can see the ranking of different countries on AIDS prevelance there as well.