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Official: Iran Faces Rise In HIV/AIDS Cases

Brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei, founders of an HIV-prevention program in Iran, were jailed on what many say were politically motivated charges.
Iranian Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi says the spread of HIV/AIDS is increasingly being spread in Iran through sexual contact, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Dastjerdi said on July 18 that HIV/AIDS in Iran used to be transmitted primarily through contaminated blood transfusions and the use of dirty needles by drug addicts.

Shahla Ezazi, a Tehran-based member of the Iranian Sociological Association, told Radio Farda the same day that she agreed with Dastjerdi's statement.

But she added that although there were contradictory statistics about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Iran, "what is certain is that the number of identified HIV-infected Iranians has increased."

The Health and Medical Education Ministry announced in September 2009 that there were 20,130 HIV/AIDS cases in Iran.

Both HIV/AIDS and prostitution are controversial subjects in the Islamic republic.

Ezazi said prostitution in Iran, at least in Tehran, had increased and was not being controlled. She said that since prostitution was prohibited in Iran, either providing HIV/AIDS education to prostitutes or placing them under medical control was unlikely to occur.

"If these women go to the authorities, they will be put in jail before getting educated or being examined," she said.

But Ezazi said everyone, not just prostitutes, should be educated about HIV/AIDS prevention.

"But in spite of the fact that risky sexual behavior exists in Iranian society, there is no education [about the risks of contracting HIV/AIDS] in this regard," she said.

Leading Activists Jailed

Meanwhile, Iran's two leading specialists in HIV/AIDS, brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei, remain in prison, where they have been since June 2008.

They were found guilty of involvement in a U.S. plot to overthrow the Iranian government.

Arash was sentenced to six years in prison, while Kamiar was sentenced to three years.

Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights have condemned the brothers' jailing as unfair and politically motivated.

Radio Farda spoke last month to Masud Shafie, the lawyer representing the Alaeis. He said the brothers continue to actively appeal their sentences within Iran's judicial system, although officials have yet to make a final decision.