1986 Iranian officials still referred to HIV/AIDS as "a Western disease" and
refused even to acknowledge that it might exist in Iran. But 12 years later,
Dr. Kamiar Alaei managed to convince a community that it needed an AIDS clinic.
Another decade later, you find needle exchange programs in Iran, and huge billboards advertising condoms in a country noted for sexual repression. It's all about building trust, according to Alaei, and it doesn't happen overnight.
Statistics show Iran's new openness toward
treatment of HIV/AIDS came not a moment too soon. Illegal drug use in Iran is
rampant, with millions at risk of spreading the disease through needle sharing.
Recent studies show the problem is far greater in Iran than in neighboring
In a nation that holds few options for young
adults-70 percent of Iranians are under 30 years old, and unemployment is
soaring-the situation may be critical for some time. But Alaei is hopeful. He
and his colleagues have a proven formula to establish health care and give
communities a sustainable model for prevention and treatment. It starts with
identifying the trouble spots, then doing the all-important needs assessment by
simply canvassing area residents.
"We cannot just go into a community and say 'You have to do this,'" Alaei explains. "We have to learn from them. We may have to revise the proposed intervention based on what they tell us." Some areas require extensive and delicate consultation with religious leaders, whose approval is crucial to the success of the program.
Alaei's "Health Diplomacy" project, an exchange
program for American medical students, was inspired by the once-lively
collaboration between Iranian and U.S. universities that ended in 1979. Every
summer for the past 10 years, Alaei has been bringing U.S. medical students to
Iran to work in tandem with their Iranian counterparts. They return a few
months later but continue their joint research via letters and the Internet.
Alaei says he recently received more than 200
unsolicited e-mails from American students asking to come to Iran. "This is a
very good example of when you drop a stone in the middle of the water," says
Alaei. "It's exponential. It's hard in the beginning, but when they get in the
right direction, they can be influenced very quickly."
As with other efforts in Iran to collaborate with the West, Alaei appreciates recognition but worries about anti-government implications, which could jeopardize his programs. He says flexibility is the key, and a willingness to adjust each community's program to its own needs and abilities. Information exchange workshops with Afghanistan and Tajikistan, because of the cultural similarities, have also been very helpful and will continue.
Alaei likes to tell the story of how a renowned physician in the 1990s received $10 million to build an AIDS hospital in western Iran, but when the doctor made this announcement to the community, it met with such resistance that the project never got off the ground. "You have to start with peer education and peer counseling," Alaei says. "You don't need $10 million. You show them step by step they can make a difference; you can build cheaper facilities and just show them what to do."
On July 15, 2008, media reports stated that
the subject of this article, Dr. Kamiar Alaei, and his brother, Arash, were
placed under arrest by Iranian officials in Tehran.
Dr. Arash Alaei is also a pioneer in the
field of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in Iran. The brothers have worked
together to foster regional as well as international cooperation and information
exchange, and to deliver effective programs to areas with increasing incidence
of HIV and AIDS.
In his many presentations to organizations
around the world, Kamiar Alaei emphasized that his goal was good health and that
the hallmark of his clinical program was to work within existing systems and
communities. He was well aware that any indication of resistance to the current
regime could be a threat to his work.
The Asia Society reports that its executive vice president is "pursuing this matter with appropriate officials and partner organizations."
... Payvand News - 09/20/08 ... --