Most Americans don’t think of Iran as current leaders in anything. According to a UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic published in 2008, however, “support for needle exchange projects in countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran … serve as clear examples of courageous, visionary leadership in the response to HIV.” This harm reduction method has been championed by brothers Dr. Arash Alaei and Dr. Kamiar Alaei.
Originally from Kermanshah, Iran, Dr. Arash and Dr. Kamiar Alaei became acutely aware of Iran’s HIV/AIDS problem after they completed their medical training. They have sought to integrate harm reduction programs into Iran’s medical system since 1986. In 1997, they founded care clinics that distributed condoms and clean needles and offered patients methadone, antiretroviral therapy, and other medical services. Their clinics were held up as a model for the rest of the Middle East and North Africa by the World Health Organization.
The Alaei brothers were the subjects of a film by Maziar Bahari, which, according the The Tehran Bureau, is a “funny but poignant film [that] captures a part of their impressive work; perhaps most remarkably, it shows how far the brothers are willing to go for their patients. In this case, they try to find a wife for an HIV patient in Tehran.”
In early 2008, Kamiar had been named Asia Society Fellow, “one of 23 new Fellows identified as being among the most promising trendsetters and emerging leaders in the Asia-Pacific region.” Kamiar also runs a “Health Diplomacy” project, an exchange program for American medical students, brought U.S. medical students to Iran to work with their Iranian counterparts and continue post-visit collaboration via the Internet.
According to a Reuters article published on December 1, 2007, “Iran is fighting the spread of the AIDS virus by treating sufferers for free but taboos about the issue in the Islamic Republic are hindering efforts to raise public awareness.” The Alaei brothers broke that taboo by taking about how HIV is spread and how it can be prevented.
The brothers were both arrested in 2008. They were charged with treason, and both have since been released.