Winning Freedom for an HIV/AIDS Specialist in Iran

Posted by HIAS – NY on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Before his sudden and unexpected arrest for “communicating with an enemy government,” Dr. Arash Alaei created a model HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment system in Iran.

A renowned physician and internationally recognized expert in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, Dr. Alaei and his brother established Iran’s first clinic specializing in HIV/AIDS and spent a decade building a public health system to address the pandemic. Under his guidance, the country instituted the distribution of free condoms in healthcare clinics, initiated a nationwide needle-exchange program, and opened methadone treatment centers in every province.

They trained Afghan and Tajik medical workers and built cooperation for public health strategies among 12 Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Their efforts earned Iran recognition by the World Health Organization.

“We knew the new government would not like us working with high-risk groups of HIV/AIDS patients. But we never thought we would be arrested,” Arash says.

Accused of being part of a group linked to the United States whose aim was to overthrow the government, Dr. Alaei was sentenced to six years in Teheran’s notorious Evin prison where he was frequently interrogated and tortured.

When he was finally released three years later, he could no longer work in Iran and feared for his safety. Reluctantly, he decided to leave and was able to legally enter the U.S., thanks to the HIAS-Prins program, which provides pro bono legal representation to persecuted scientists, scholars, professionals, and artists seeking refuge.

“I truly appreciate HIAS for giving scientists the opportunity to continue our life, our passion, and our work.”

Since receiving asylum two years ago, Dr. Alaei has continued his endeavors on staff at the University of Albany. He hopes to expand interactions with the university and countries in the Middle East and to one day establish a school of public health in Iraq, Turkey, or Afghanistan.

“Where I live and where I work may have changed, but I am still able to strive for my dreams and passions,” he says. “I am optimistic about the future of my work and research.”

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