AIDS in Iran

Dubious Education

AIDS has long ceased being a taboo topic in Iran. The state has made efforts to bring the problem under control. However, official statements and social reality are still worlds apart. Shahram Ahadi reports

AIDS, written in Persian

​​"Iran has been designated by the WHO as one of the countries least affected by the spread of this disease," proclaimed the AIDS representative from the Iranian Health Ministry, Dr. Mohammad Mehdi Guya, two-and-a-half years ago.

According to official statements, 4,237 cases of HIV infections and AIDS existed in Iran at the end of March 2003, a figure that seems very low compared to the statistics of other Asian countries.

The reliability of this figure, however, is more than dubious. "These statistics have no reasonable basis. They only represent haphazardly registered cases of HIV infection," says Ahmad Ghavidel, director of the Iranian Hemophilia Society. "For the most part, they were identified by means of blood donations and medical examinations."

The result of hopelessness

Official sources today identify heroine dependency as the number one cause for the spread of AIDS in Iran. Drug consumption has always had a tradition in Iran, but what is worrying is the fact that a growing number of young people are turning to drugs as a result of unemployment, a sense of hopelessness, and a lack of recreational opportunities.

Experts in Iran have relatively few problems talking about heroin addiction and the danger of AIDS being spread by this risk group. However, an open debate about the problem of spreading AIDS through sex is either not possible or only possible to a limited extent.

Sex in Iran

The fact is that non-marital and premarital sex is illegal in Iran and prosecutable. But the reality looks quite different. "Let's assume that boys experience their first sexual desires around 15 and that men in our country marry at age 26 or 27 on the average," Ahmad Ghavidel. "The question arises as to where these men satisfy their sexual needs during these eleven or twelve years."

In fact, prostitution in the last few years has grown into a serious and alarming problem in Iranian society. More and more girls and women are turning to prostitution to escape social and economic difficulties.

Temporary marriages from one hour to several years

Interesting in this respect is the phenomenon of the temporary marriage, not rare in Shiite-Islamic Iran. In Sunni-Islamic countries, it does not exist, or only with restrictions. The period of duration stipulated before the wedding can be one hour, several days, or even a few years.

In most cases, it is women in financial and social distress who submit to such temporary marriages. It could be called a kind of legal prostitution. In view of these facts, the dubiousness of the officially given figures for HIV infections and AIDS cases is more than obvious.

Half-truths in schools and on TV

Education is an essential part of the fight against AIDS. For years Iran has endeavored to curb the spreading of the diseases with anti-AIDS campaigns. Here, however, half-truths emerge again and again which have the opposite effect.

Of course, projects have existed for some time now that focus on AIDS education in schools and want this education to be included in school textbooks.

Still, it is interesting to see the role the mass media, especially television, plays in this education. "Iranian TV has changed in the past three years," says Ghavidel. "But the information is not always true. And they do not speak openly and candidly on TV about the possibility of spreading HIV through unprotected sex. This is the greatest source of danger in our society."

Shahram Ahadi

Translated from the German by Nancy Joyce

© Deutsche Welle/ 2004

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