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25,000 People in Iran Are Said to Be HIV Positive

By Sahar Namazi Khah
Akhbar Eqtesad #37
October 24, 1999,

AIDS is not being taken seriously in Iran yet. There are not sufficient mechanisms to disseminate information in order to prevent spread of the virus. Ms. Minoo Mohrez, an specialist of infectious diseases and member of the AIDS State Committee, provides the latest information regarding AIDS in Iran, in an interview with Akhbar Eqtesad.

Q: When was the first HIV positive patient identified in Iran?

A: The first proven case of aids in our country was observed in 1987. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 1984, and through its lending financial assistance and putting laboratory test kits at our disposal, requested Iran to start identifying AIDS victims in different parts of Iran. The Iranian government was also required to provide reports and statistics from the HIV positive patients so as to specify the latest number of victims in this country. When sample taking started, a number of high risk individuals were identified.

Q: What were the most probable ways these individuals had contracted the virus?

A: At the beginning the number of individuals who had been infected through contaminated blood by-products was larger than the addicts who had acquired the disease through intravenous injections. There were also a number of HIV positive individuals whose affliction was attributed to their licentious lifestyle. Iran had for years been importing blood by-products from France and this was at a time when there were no warnings vis-a-vis the transfusion of stained blood. The unsuspecting Iranian hemophilic, who were dependent on these blood by-products were naturally the first victims. There was a time when the highest number of AIDS victims in Iran comprised of the patients who had received some forms of these blood by-products. However, after 12 years, there was an increase of AIDS patients who had been infected in sex related cases. An experiment carried out on prison inmate in 1995 and 1996 revealed that a large number of intravenous addicts had become HIV positive through the use of common syringe needles and their number was increasing at a rapid pace. It is now estimated that 70 percent of the AIDS victim in Iran are among intravenously injecting addicts.

Q: Is there a reliable statistics of the country's AIDS patients available at present?

A: We have already identified 1755 HIV positive and 234 AIDS patients in our country.

Q: Are these the final statistics?

A: Definitely not. There are certain norms to measure AIDS statistics in different countries of the world. These norms are different in every country. According to the WHO norms and considering the unfavorable reporting system in Iran, we must multiply the number of identified patients by 35. However, researchers at Harvard University in the USA believe that the number of the world AIDS victims must also be multiplied by 3 to attain a more realistic picture. In this manner, our number of AIDS victims should approach 25000 which is catastrophic. This translates into the fact that there are 24000 HIV positive individuals in this country, some of whom are not even aware of their contamination.

Q: What measures must we take in order to prevent the geometrically progressive spread of the disease?

A: I am of the opinion that overlooking or denying the depth of the tragedy would be the worst thing the health officials of the country can do. At present, 70 percent of our AIDS patients are intravenously injecting addicts. The least we could do was to let the addicts know not to make use of other addicts needles. AIDS is not only a disease, it is a social problem that leaves lasting ill effects on the economic well being of the country.

Q: The implementation of parts of educational and informational policies rests on the shoulders of the public media and the press as well as the IRIB are among the best information networks that can be active in this field. But...

A: Yes, in no part of the world is sole reliance on the governmental budgets and the measures taken by the public health services effective in combating this disease and all governmental organs should participate. In a survey carried out in one of the cities of Isfahan province, more than 80 percent of the people said that the first time they heard the word AIDS was on the Radio and TV. This learning acquired from the IRIB indicates the importance of these media in educating people. Naturally, the educational role of these media become ever more evident.

There was a time when we were stressing that people should be warned and educated as regards the epidemic nature of AIDS, there were some people who believed that speaking about this disease would bring about negative consequences! This can be compared to not telling people to wash their hands before eating.

Why shouldn't we talk about AIDS? Why shouldn't we inform people to save their youth? Why should we feel so righteous as to keep quiet in the face of serious damage to the future generation and the young people? Who has given us the right to hand over a generation suspected of contaminations to their future offsprings? I have personally witnessed in at least the last 13 or 14 years how reporters become enthusiastic in preparing reports and information for the sake of the general public. Many film makers have dedicated the subject of their films to the topic of AIDS. However, only 50 percent of their reports and films have reached the public. I, myself have studied and approved the screenplay of several films in connection with AIDS that were never shown on TV, and the interviews were never broadcast. Reports were sent to archives and filed for the future reference. However, they were seldom if ever referred to.

Reporters, film makers, teaser makers, etc. all know what pains the society. The have eagerly come to our aid. Sad to say they constantly have had to face censorship. We must come to grips with the depth of the catastrophe and leave aside self-censorship in at least the context of scientific controversial issues which go back to the very fate of a society. We must embark upon making long and short films, promotional teasers, and also enhance scientific and educational programs.

It's been a long time since authorities in charge have been issuing directives of one sort or another concerning the extension of help to the afflicted or the prevention of the disease, but things have not picked up the necessary momentum. We, in our Islamic society and Islamic culture, have in our possession the necessary tools to combat this curse. While the rest of the world have adopted our Islamic mottos and Quranic tenets to prevent the spread of the disease, we ourselves do not take them seriously. We have not even allocated the needed financial resources to combat AIDS. Perhaps we do not even want to acknowledge its true existence and its widespread infestation.

In European countries, they have allocated the prime time to advertisements regarding ways and means of prevention of AIDS and the pertinent warnings. What do we advertise during our prime time TV broadcasts? Spaghetti and chips!

I do believe that our people are perfectly capable of participating in cultural, hygienic, social and in short all public affairs. Only a uniform program can activate this important issue. I well remember there was a time at the Ministry of Health during which we had allocated a telephone line to inform the public of addiction prevention. You can't believe how frequently families and the young people would contact us and would ask us for more information. The people are eager to know. Why shouldn't we give them this right?

Q: Who is responsible for the planning of prevention programs?

A: The National Committee for the Prevention of AIDS was actually launched in 1986. However, the creation of a committee is not good enough and the members of this committee should be well hand-picked, who aren't! Their meetings should be held on regular basis, (these meetings have been held only once or twice), so that the members can seriously devote themselves to the task at hand. On the other hand the emerging programs from these meetings should be enforceable. At the Ministry of Health some experts have been assigned to the job, but there's not much that they can do! Why? Because AIDS possesses all the elements and norms of a disease but we do not care!

Q: In which city of Iran do we have the highest number of AIDS patient?

A: Statistics point at Tehran as to have the highest number of patients. However, after conducting researches in prisons, we came to the conclusion that the highest number of AIDS patients is found in the rehabilitation centers and prisons of Kermanshah.

Q: What about Mashad?

A: Because of repair works carried out in Kahnooj penitentiary, the inmates were transferred to Mashad Ab Hayat prison. This resulted in an effective increase in the number of AIDS patients in Mashad prisons, as well.