Thousands of prostitutes carry virus (Illustration photo)

Tehran: Brand frenzy worsens AIDS crisis

Recent rise in HIV carriers recorded, mainly due to women offering shop owners sex in return for discount clothes. Aid workers believe there is lack of awareness on ways of infection in Iran

The British newspaper the The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the Iranian aid organization "Iran Positive Life" which is affiliated with the United Nations, cautioned about the spreading of the AIDS disease in the country.


According to estimates, 300,000 women in Iran work as prostitutes, and their average age is 20. Unofficial data shows that 11,000 of them, aged 15 – 49, have been infected with the lethal virus.


In the Qaam mall in northern Tehran, two floors are dedicated solely to women's fashion. The Guardian reported that a few of these shopkeepers and salespersons have admitted to agreeing to proposals of sex.


Arash, a 23 year old man, said that he had received 40 or 50 of these proposals in his own shop. "I think that 50 percent of the salespeople have received sex in return for clothes," he said.


Another 23 year old salesman, Ahmad Raza, has also admitted to accepting such offers.


"I was sitting outside the store; two women came up to me and said they wanted to try on coats. They were looking for bargains and I offered them the usual discounts, but they said "we don’t have a way to pay this – if you give us a real discount and your mobile number, we will service you," so I gave them another discount and I got their numbers."

Shoe bazaar in Tehran. 300,000 prostitutes in Iran (Photo: AFP) 


"I can spot a prostitute from the way she acts and her body language. When she asks how much something costs, I give her a higher price. Then I lower the price when she asks for a discount, then she thinks she has found an opportunity and offers to sleep with me," he continued.


Insufficient information 

"I do not think that the prostitutes are aware of the AIDS virus," said Amir Fathi, head of the Iran Positive Life organization, which is partially funded buy UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.


"If they are infected, and have sex with three or four salesmen each day, you can imagine the danger. I think that most of the salesmen are aware of the risk but cannot resist temptation."


According to official data, there are 13,074 AIDS patients in Iran; however, the World Health Organization and the Iranian Ministry of Health believe that the real numbers are much higher – between 70,000 and 120,000.


The organization has been trying to raise awareness amongst the salesmen in hopes that they will pass on the prostitutes' offers. Every night, crews of volunteer workers go from shop to shop and test the salesmen's knowledge on the disease.


In one instance, when a Guardian reporter joined on of these crews, most of those asked knew that AIDS could be caught by unprotected sex, and that condoms could provide protection.


The organization estimates that so far, the volunteer have talked with some 5,000 Iranian youth in shopping centers, parks and cafés since the project started three months ago.


Despite that, experts say that the Iranian public is still not aware on the subject. "We have found that despite the fact that people know about AIDS, their information is insufficient and they do not implement it," said a local administrator in the organization, Amir-Raza Moradi, who carries the virus himself.


And what is Ahmadinejad's government doing about it? It has formulated a plan to fight the AIDS problem, but its publicity campaigns have been criticized under the claim that they are inappropriate.


In a survey which was recently conducted among seven Ayatollahs (a high ranking title given to major Shia clerics), they responded almost unanimously that it is best to educate the young on sexually transmitted diseases rather than encourage the use of condoms.


פרסום ראשון: 01.04.07, 09:28
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