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International News

Condom as a Problem Word: Iran Grapples with a Surge in AIDS

April 4, 2002

Fighting AIDS without contradicting basic Islamic teachings can prove a quandary in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal and sex outside marriage is considered a weighty sin. "As officials, we cannot talk about things that are opposed to our culture, opposed to our religious beliefs," said Dr. Muhammad Mehdi, a specialist in infectious diseases who runs the Iranian Center for Disease Control (ICDC), which is trying to check the rapidly growing number of AIDS cases.

Through January, Iran identified 3,438 people who have HIV. An overwhelming majority of those people are male drug addicts. The ICDC estimates the actual number of HIV-positive Iranians at 19,000. Other sources give higher figures. Although still limited in a country with a population of 70 million, the potential for disaster looms, given widespread needle sharing among 1.2 million confirmed drug addicts. "It is spreading very fast," said Dr. Mahboobeh Hajiabdolbah, an AIDS specialist at Tehran University's Imam Khomeini Hospital.

Until a few months ago, although the word condom had been introduced to AIDS pamphlets for adults, it continued to be banned on radio and television talk shows. Condoms are available in pharmacies but the government point of view is that telling teenagers about condoms will inspire them to have sex. "The policy makers think if you talk about something it will encourage the activity," said Dr. Minoo Mohraz, one of Iran's first AIDS specialists. Mohraz put her foot down a few months ago over the ban on broadcasting the word condoms. "I said if they won't let me talk about condoms and sexual behavior, I won't come on the program. So they said I could talk."

Some experts contend that the Islamic Republic should employ its singular traditions in the fight. Fear of the disease and the desire to hide it underscore the hurdles. "Knowledge about the disease is limited," Mohraz said. "So people are afraid of the patients, run away from them. It's going to change. But the disease still has a stigma."


Back to other CDC news for April 4, 2002

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Adapted from:
New York Times
04.04.02; Neil Macfarquhar

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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