August 2, 2011
HIV/AIDS doctors Kamiar and Arash Alaei pioneered integrated HIV treatment and drug counseling for injection drug users and prisoners in Iran. Kamiar spoke recently about their 2008 arrest; Iranian authorities accused the two brothers of collaborating with an enemy government.
"It's not over," said Kamiar, who was freed last November and is petitioning for his brother's release. "When I sleep, I still feel like I am in prison in my dreams. In Arash, part of my heart is still in prison."
"I assumed that what my patients needed most was care," said Kamiar. "I found out that they also really needed counseling on how to cope with HIV. Some people said their husbands and wives had left them," he said. "Stigma was stopping our patients from getting married and having a family. So we introduced HIV-positive men to women who were also HIV-positive."
"Condoms and needle-exchange programs are very sensitive issues in an Islamic country, so we had to think carefully about how to provide services. For instance, prisoners had the right to conjugal visits. So we provided counseling, and then, almost as an aside, offered condoms as well. We provided methadone and clean needles by offering them alongside antiseptic swabs."
"We never expected to be arrested," said Kamiar, who still does not know for which enemy government he was accused of being a collaborator. As a scientist, "you need to have collaboration, but the Iranian government makes it difficult now," he said. "The worst scenario we imagined, if the new government was not happy with our work, was that they would tell us not to continue. We would then have asked them how they wanted us to implement or design our programs. We would have adapted."
In prison, the brothers worked to help fellow prisoners take up exercise, reading, and painting, as well as to stop smoking.