Facing Increase in HIV Cases, Iran Tries to Teach Sex Education Without Contradicting Islam
As it wrestles with a "surge" in AIDS cases, Iran is in a "quandary" regarding how to teach HIV prevention without discussing certain subjects, including condoms, homosexuality and infidelity, that are taboo under Islamic teachings, the New York Times reports. Iran had 3,438 reported HIV infections as of January, but the Iranian Center for Disease Control estimates that the actual number of infections could be around 19,000. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a directive ordering health officials to fight HIV, as the country is facing the "potential for disaster." Needle sharing is "widespread" among Iran's 1.2 million confirmed drug users, who represent the bulk of the country's HIV infections. In addition, although substance abuse is "widely acknowledged" in Iran, other behavioral practices that constitute risk factors for HIV transmission are not. Homosexuality "remains so deeply in the closet that few patients will even confide to their doctors" that they may have contracted HIV through homosexual contact, and extramarital sex is "similarly hidden," the Times reports. Until several months ago, the word "condom" was banned on radio and television talk shows, and government officials do not want teens to receive condom instruction because they believe it "will inspire the youngsters to start having sex." Dr. Minoo Mohraz, one of Iran's first AIDS specialists, said, "The policy makers think if you talk about something it will encourage the activity," adding that most teens have "no knowledge about sex" and those who are sexually active often have unprotected sex. Some conservative Islamic clerics also believe that the country should do more to fight HIV transmission, but they are looking to practices that rely on religious tenets rather than "Western experience." For example, one member of Parliament proposed the practice of "temporary marriage," in which a couple is married for a "brief period of time" specified in a contract, as a way to boost monogamy (MacFarquhar, New York Times, 4/4).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.