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International News

Iranian Doctors' Conviction Could Damage Public Health

March 4, 2009

The Dec. 31 conviction of two pioneering Iranian HIV/AIDS doctors could have a chilling effect on scholarly exchanges, research, and disease prevention, experts say. In June, brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei were arrested and later tried on charges of plotting to overthrow the regime. Their sentences of three and six years in prison seem partly to stem from their AIDS work, human rights advocates say.

The Alaei brothers' work involved holistic treatment and prevention of HIV primarily among injecting drug users. Their initiatives, including a nationwide needle-exchange program, have been praised by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, and are seen as models for the Middle East. Iran has one of the largest populations of heroin users in the world. Although HIV/AIDS is still taboo in the region, Iran's religious leaders blessed the brothers' work, and political leaders had not interfered previously.

"Public health will suffer in Iran and around the world," said Jonathan Hutson, chief communications officer of US-based Physicians for Human Rights. "If these doctors were engaged in any kind of warfare, it was only the battle to prevent and treat AIDS." Training people in public health work, engaging with international non-governmental organizations, and attending conferences abroad are not crimes but good medicine, said Hutson.

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"It will be harder for Iranians to share their experiences, in, for example, harm reduction and HIV prevention, with other countries in the region," said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch.

The conviction could signal a shift on HIV/AIDS; a warning against ties with the West; or a crackdown on activists ahead of June presidential elections, advocates say. Some campaigners remain hopeful that Iran's government will respond to the international outcry from health professionals and release the brothers.

Back to other news for March 2009

Adapted from:
Lancet
02.14.2009; Vol. 373; No. 9663: P. 533; Kristin Elisabeth Solberg


  
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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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