Dr. Kamiar Alaei, an Iranian physician who with his brother was jailed in Iran for his efforts to help HIV/AIDS patients, described the work that ultimately led to his imprisonment during a presentation on Oct. 17 at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Dr. Alaei and his brother Arash pioneered a community-based approach to HIV/AIDS in Iran starting in the late 1990s, after their graduation from medical school. From their clinic, the men worked to raise awareness about HIV, counter myths about its transmission, and reduce stigma and prejudice against those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
The two were arrested by Iranian authorities in June 2008 and convicted on charges of communicating with an enemy government. The activities that led to their conviction included traveling to international AIDS and other health conferences and networking with other health professionals in Iran and abroad to advance HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Following coordinated action by United Nations human rights treaty bodies, NGOs such as Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, as well as international academic institutions, Kamiar was released in late 2010 after two and a half years in an Iranian prison, while Arash was released in August 2011 after serving three years.
Kamiar Alaei described his efforts to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic using a “bottom-up” approach that involved not only HIV/AIDS patients but also their partners, their families, and the community. The brothers also pioneered a harm-reduction approach that included needle exchanges for injecting drug users, promoting condom use, and supporting peer education and counseling. They also helped export the approach to neighboring countries in Central Asia and formed an international medical student network that provides internships for 15-25 students each summer.
In 2009, the New York Academy of Sciences presented its Heinz R. Pagels Award for human rights to the Alaei brothers.
Photo credit: Global Health Council