AIDS, to me, is such a scary horrible disease that it seems that all of us would naturally support a cure and work together stop it from spreading. I even forced my family to watch a movie on AIDS over the holidays. (And the Band Played On, based on a book with same title by Randy Shilts, who died of AIDS in 1994).
That's why I was astounded to read last night, at the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) news site, that the Iranian government has put two doctors in prison - doctors who specialize in treating AIDS patients. The PHR, if you're wondering, is well known for supporting human rights and shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Physicians for Human Rights article describes the doctors as:
Dr. Kamiar Alaei is a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health in Albany, New York and was expected to resume his studies there this fall. In 2007, he received a master of science degree in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
Dr. Arash Alaei is the former director of the International Education and Research Cooperation of the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Since 1998, the Drs. Alaei have been carrying out HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, particularly focused on harm reduction for injecting drug users.
What did these doctors do to land in jail?
Apparently, they are charged with communicating with an enemy government. Maybe it was the medical science training courses.
From the Physicians for Human Rights:
In addition to their work in Iran, the Alaei brothers have held training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers and have worked to encourage regional cooperation among 12 Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Their efforts expanded the expertise of doctors in the region, advanced the progress of medical science, and earned Iran recognition as a model of best practice by the World Health Organization.
According to the Physicians for Human Rights, CEO Frank Donaghue:
"To all appearances, the arrest and now the trial of these two prominent and widely-traveled AIDS doctors seem to be an effort to shut the door on medical and public health collaboration on global health crises...a policy that is dangerous for the well-being of the Iranian people and for global health."
Both Nature magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are publicizing the PHR efforts to call for release of the two doctors.
You can help. Call the Iranian Mission to the UN at +1-212-687-2020 and urge Iran to release the Alaeis brothers immediately.
If you do this:
Introduce yourself and where you are calling from ex "My name is ____ and I am a doctor/medical student/health professional in _____ etc.
Tell them why you are calling ex. "Treating AIDS is not a crime. Drs Alaei should be immediately released to continue their lifesaving work on HIV/AIDS for the people of Iran
Add any details about how you know Kamiar or Arash ex "I was a student with Kamiar at Harvard School of Public Health"
After you make the call, let the PHR know by emailing skalloch [at] phrusa [dot] org.
Fighting AIDS is hard enough without having to fight government insanity as well.
1. PHR Criticizes Iran for Trying AIDS Doctors on Secret Charges, Dec. 31, 2008.
2. Declan Butler, September 17, 2008. Iran holds AIDS doctors Nature 455 doi:10.1038/455269a