June 17, 2003
Saddam Hussein's government locked them up for four years, until 1991, when it emptied hospitals to make room for anticipated casualties in Saddam Hussein's war to seize Kuwait.
Freed from quarantine, the patients promised to make monthly hospital visits to be monitored for symptoms and counseled about the dangers of spreading the disease. In return, they were given allowances and benefits such as clothes and haircuts by a government determined to keep its AIDS problem quiet and, according to Iraqi health officials, to compensate victims of a medical mistake.
After his release in 1991, Chaloob "was like a prisoner being set free. I could go wherever I wanted and do what I wanted," he said. But he quickly learned that nobody would hire a person with AIDS.
Health officials say the monthly allowance for AIDS patients was 25,000 dinars (about $12 before the war) -- not enough to live on but decent pocket money. Chaloob and his mother say they got only 15,000. But for three months now, Chaloob said, HIV/AIDS patients have not received their allowances. Without an allowance, Chaloob has decided to skip his next hospital visit. Like most experts here, Hamed expects the number of Iraq's HIV/AIDS patients to increase as people drop out of the monitoring program, and as the effects of the U.S. invasion are felt in other ways, such as the arrival of more foreigners in the once-isolated country.