Although the Iranian government does not often admit the scope of the HIV/AIDS problem in Iran (it usually admits to about 21,000 cases), estimates are that the total number of Iranians infected with the deadly virus is between 60,000 and 100,000 individuals. The majority, about 70 percent, is made up of drug users infected through contaminated needles; a growing minority has been infected through sexual contact.
The Iranian government does, however, take credit for efforts to combat the disease, and those efforts have been praised by international health organizations. At the United Nations' High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York in June, Iran's Acting Health Minister, Mohammad Hossein Niknam spoke enthusiastically of Iran's "national strategic plan which addresses the specific needs of target groups," with its establishment of "voluntary counseling and testing centers. . . .outreach teams, methadone maintenance treatment programs. . . .peer group education schemes, hotline services, home care programs and 'harm reduction centers' for vulnerable women," among other elements.
The irony is that the two doctors who pioneered Iran's drive to educate Iranians about HIV/AIDs and who developed the measures to help prevent its spread were arrested by the Iranian regime in 2008.
Dr. Arash Alaei and his brother Dr. Kamiar Alaei, who had traveled to international health conferences on AIDS and received awards for their work, were accused of fomenting a so-called "velvet revolution" in Iran. After being detained for months, they were subjected to a summary trial. Kamiar Alaei was sentenced to three years in prison; he was released in October 2010. Arash Alaei, who was sentenced to six years, remains behind bars.
In a recent interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Kamiar Alaei said that he and his brother were innocent of the charges against them. "All of our activities – we've been involved in AIDS prevention for more than a decade – have been focused on health and hygiene issues," he said. "We've never been involved in politics and we will never be, because health has nothing to do with politics." He expressed his deep hope that his brother will be released soon to return to his family and to his work.
The United States remains deeply concerned by the continued detention of Dr. Arash Alaei, and urges the Iranian government to release him immediately, not only for his own and his family's sake, but for the humanitarian cause he and his brother have worked so hard and effectively to promote.