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Sunday, 9 December, 2001, 17:04 GMT
Iran announces jump in HIV figures
Street scene in Iranian city of Shiraz
Doctors are urging an Aids awareness campaign
By BBC Eurasia Analyst Sadeq Saba

A senior Iranian health official has warned that the number of Aids cases in the country has risen dramatically.

The Deputy Health Minister, Dr Ali Akbar Sayyari, said Iran was now facing a major epidemic.

Doctors say unless the government launches a serious Aids awareness campaign, the disease could spread further in Iran

The number of people contracting HIV, the virus which causes Aids, has been steadily rising in the past five years.

In the past, Iranian officials usually put the number of HIV-positive patients at around 2,000 but Dr Sayyari said the real figure was now more than 15,000.

Given that HIV is largely transmitted sexually, this is an alarming figure in a country which prides itself on its Islamic values.

Dirty needles

Dr Sayyari also complained that the practice of temporary marriage in Iran does not help to fight the spread of Aids.

Shia Islam allows men to have numerous temporary wives - a practice known as Sigha - sometimes for only a very short period of time.

But Iranian officials point out that a major cause of HIV transmission is the use of unclean needles for drug use, especially in jails.

The director of prisons in Iran has recently warned about the spread of Aids in Iranian jails and called on the government to take urgent measures to fight it.

Reformist newspapers have also called for free distribution of syringes to drug addicts to stop the spread of the deadly disease.

But doctors say unless the government launches a serious Aids awareness campaign, the disease could spread further in Iran.

See also:

09 Aug 01 | Europe
Aids scandals around the world
26 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iran clamps down on drugs
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