Increased Drug Flow Fueling Spread of HIV in Iran; Country Seeing More Sexually Transmitted HIV Cases, UNICEF Official Says
The number of HIV cases in Iran is increasing rapidly because of the increased flow of heroin into the country from Afghanistan, and an increasing number of HIV cases are being transmitted sexually, Christian Salazar, UNICEF coordinator for HIV in Iran, said recently, Reuters/Javno.com reports. Iran is located along a "key heroin smuggling route" from Afghanistan to the West, and injection drug users are the highest-risk group in the country, according to Reuters/Javno.com. Iran has an adult HIV prevalence of about 0.16%, but the number of cases is "skyrocketing," Salazar said, adding that in the "worst of cases we are moving toward 1% or even 1.8% to 1.9% of the population."
Two-thirds of HIV cases in the country occur among IDUs, Salazar said, adding that increasing numbers of narcotics are coming to the country from Afghanistan. Salazar applauded Iran's "progressive and pragmatic" approach to addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, including its establishment of needle-exchange programs for IDUs in prisons. "We see Iran as a leader in this field, which not only hopefully will help contain the epidemic in Iran but also provide examples to other countries," he said. Salazar added that the country faces new challenges to controlling the spread of HIV, which increasingly could spread to Iran's general population. Although HIV/AIDS can be a sensitive topic in Iran, which bans sex outside marriage, there is a need to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among Iran's general population, according to Salazar. He added that sexual HIV transmission increasingly is being seen as a "driver of the epidemic," adding that it "creates the problem ... of how to talk about sex without talking about sex." UNICEF has sought to involve religious leaders in HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in an effort to make the virus "everybody's business," Salazar said, adding, "They are okay with this. In comparison maybe to other religions ... condom use or family planning is not a taboo issue" (Dahl, Reuters/Javno.com, 6/13).