Film explores health issues in Middle East

While most of the news today from the Middle East covers ongoing regional conflicts, HIV and drug addiction are rapidly becoming a new kind of killer in the area.

The BBC documentary film “Mohammed the Matchmaker,” which was screened Tuesday night at the Davenport College buttery, delves into the rarely documented issue of HIV in Iran and how Iranian society treats those who live with the virus. Brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei, two physicians from Iran featured in the film, attended the showing and spoke afterwards of their medical practice with an aim to aid what they call Iran’s hidden epidemic — HIV.

At the screening, Kamiar Alaei said he has worked to help the Middle East deal with health problems that Iranian society does not condone discussing, such as HIV and drug addiction.

“We designed a model that is triangular clinics,” he said. “There are three targets — HIV, drugs and STDs. We emphasize intervention and provide harm reduction.”

Sixty-five of these triangular clinics are in operation in Iran today, Kamiar Alaei said, with 45 inside prisons. The program has received a $16 million grant, with which it has established an international training program that covers many of the countries in the Middle East.

“Part of the project is the [fight for the] rights of people with HIV,” he said. “They have the right to marry if they are HIV positive.”

The title of the movie, he said, comes from the fact that HIV victims find it difficult to find spouses.

Hani Tohme, a third-year student at American University of Beirut who attended the screening, said he agrees that HIV is a problem in the Middle East, particularly for women in Iran.

“If a woman has it, she will be doomed,” Tohme said. “They will be rejected from everywhere. It would be better for her if she were not alive. Society will treat her as a very bad person, even worse than the man. If a man has it, it will not be a big problem.”

Aside from Tohme, who is from the Middle East, a wide variety of students showed up to watch the film on Tuesday night.

Katrin Jordan, a visiting fellow studying renewable energy and international competitiveness from Free University in Germany, attended the showing to learn more about Iran’s HIV problem.

“I just got an e-mail, and I thought it would be interesting,” she said.

A research scientist, Nadia Abdala, said she attended the showing because it is related to the work she carries out at the School of Public Health, and the material in the film relates significantly to her research.

Hanieh Razzaghi EPH ’07 said she has a deep interest in the subject material of the film because she is Iranian and her graduate thesis is on AIDS research. She said the film’s material is vital to her homeland’s health.

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