HIV cases skyrocketing in Iran
Current taboo prevents patients from receiving treatment
The medical condition known as AIDS/HIV still carries with it a stigma of intravenous drug use and homosexual and/or risky sex practices. More alarming is the fact that Iran, a religiously conservative Middle East nation, has seen its cases of HIV/AIDS infection increasing by a four-fold over the past several years. Reasons behind this increase are complex - but Iran is rising to the challenge of identifying and treating those with the disease.
Reasons behind this increase in Iran are complex - but the nation is rising to the challenge of identifying and treating those with the disease.
"Around 70 percent of people estimated to have HIV in Iran don't know they are infected. Compare that with the US, where the number of people with HIV is much higher than that of Iran, but 95 percent of people are aware of their infections."
Iran's health minister, Hassan Hashemi complains that the current taboo prevents patients from receiving treatment.
"Today people in Iran are frightened of AIDS because of misinformation and unscientific claims. This is why it remains a taboo," Hashemi said at an event in Tehran marking World AIDS Day this past weekend. "There has been a nine-fold growth in the number of people with AIDS in the past 11 years and an 80 percent increase each year."
The majority of those with HIV in Iran are unaware of their infections, he says, noting that the trend was shifting from drug use to sexual transmission.
"This is more than the rate of our inflation or the rise in house prices," he said. Sadly, social stigma means that HIV patients and their relatives keep the disease secret.
"Unfortunately, in our country, the status of awareness among patients, social support and education and prevention is poor," he said. "In Iran, the trend is shifting from transmission through drug addicts sharing syringes to transmission through high-risk sexual activities." About five percent of HIV patients in the country are child workers.
Newly elected Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani appointed Hashemi, an ophthalmologist from Tehran University of Medican Sciences, as a cabinet member responsible for the health ministry.
It's not all bad news, as the nation is now quickly addressing the problem. "Iran has taken important steps in the delivery and expansion of HIV/AIDS services throughout the country during last couple of years," Gary Lewis, the head of the U.N. office in the Islamic republic told reporters.
"Between 2008 and 2012, the number of health facilities offering anti-retroviral medicines in Iran rose from 86 to 290. That's almost a fourfold increase in four years. In addition, this year, over 3,500 people in need of anti-retroviral therapy in Iran were receiving it - 10 times the number getting such treatment back in 2005."
Iran's AIDS treatment is provided totally free of charge, including medicines and counseling. "What still concerns us, however, is that the number of newly reported infections still outpaces the increase in the number of people receiving treatment," Lewis says
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