Video: Doctor takes on HIV in Iran

NBC News
updated 4/5/2007 7:01:53 PM ET 2007-04-05T23:01:53

There can be few people who've challenged taboos in Iran as successfully as Dr. Minoo Mohraz, but then she had to. Mohraz is Iran's foremost AIDS specialist.

Her clinic at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Hospital is the biggest in a country where an estimated 70,000 people are HIV-positive, most of them addicts who've shared needles.

Some 95 percent of those being treated here are men, but the balance is changing, with more and more cases the result of sexual activity. Mohraz is working with the University of San Francisco on a program to find patterns of risky sexual behavior. 

"Sexual transmission is now increasing," Mohraz says. It's a tough subject in a country where condoms are available, but prostitution and premarital and gay sex are mostly underground to avoid heavy punishment.

"We have to just talk about these to young people — about what is unsafe and what is safe sex," she says.

Her clinic has opened a social club to help the HIV-positive feel connected.  It's the first of its kind in Iran.

"We've been able to raise their spirits," she says.

Most do have access to anti-retroviral drugs.

"I feel much happier now because I have people around me who are in the same situation," one woman in the program says.

During our visit, there was another event, groundbreaking in its own way — a visit by Iranian television.

"Until three or four years ago, I cannot use the word AIDS in my reports," says Iranian Television medical correspondent Atefeh Mirseyedi.

Almost all the staff working with Mohraz at her pioneering clinic are women.

"I think women are maybe more brave than men," she says.

She says attitudes are changing — she has won surprising support from top clerics but finds Iran's male-dominated bureaucracy frustrating.

"It's not that much easy to change attitude from negative to positive," she says. "It takes time, but I won't stop."

And she won't take no for an answer — giving hope, while struggling to prevent an epidemic of HIV and AIDS.

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