UNDP Resident Representative and United Nations Resident Coordinator in Iran Gary Lewis has described as praiseworthy Iran’s efforts to control AIDS, saying that Iran’s performance in fighting AIDS is exemplary in the Middle East and the entire world.
Tuesday December 1 marked World AIDS Day. To celebrate the occasion, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “World leaders have unanimously committed to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September. This commitment reflects the power of solidarity to forge, from a destructive disease, one of the most inclusive movements in modern history.”
The theme of World AIDS Day through 2015 is “Getting to Zero.” Zero new HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS Related Deaths”. Vaghaye-e Etefaghiyeh, an Iranian newspaper, on December 6 published an interview it conducted with Mr. Lewis five days earlier on World AIDS Day 2015 – On the Fast Track to End AIDS. The following is the translation of the interview in its entirety:
Q: Where do you think Iran stands now as far as AIDS prevention and treatment is concerned?
A: The number of Iranians living with HIV/AIDS is estimated to be around 80,000. Of that figure only 23,000 have been diagnosed. Of the latter figure, only 6,000 are under treatment. Under new goals, the UN seeks to raise to 90 percent the number of patients who are aware of their HIV status. It also seeks to see 90 percent of people with diagnosed HIV infection receive treatment. The UN also wants 90 percent of all people receiving therapy to have viral suppression.
With the help of science and technology the world has managed to reverse the AIDS epidemic and slow it down. Thanks to the global fight against the epidemic, the number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths has declined sharply. The figures are on a downward trend since an all-time high of 2004. So we can take the fight against HIV/AIDS one step further and bring the curtain down on it by 2030.
Q: How can you end the AIDS epidemic?
A: We can secure our goals when we follow a strategic approach. In fact, we want to devise on three fronts the strategies Iran wants to adopt in taking on AIDS. As I said by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status. By 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy. And by 2020, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. It is known as 90-90-90 [An ambitious treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic]. A large number of countries have promised to implement plans to achieve these goals.
Q: What are your plans for stemming the spread of AIDS in children?
A: All UN activities on HIV come in line with its country programs for fighting AIDS. One such plan is about vulnerable children. We are conducting research to find answers to the existing questions. We have screening plans to measure the AIDS epidemic and other indicators such as nutrition and anemia [or blood deficiency]. One target of AIDS programs is to prevent Children of Labor from catching the viral disease. These children are most likely susceptible to AIDS due to young age and their vulnerability to social harms. They are among those groups which are the target of AIDS prevention programs. I have no statistics available about these children.
Q: How do you evaluate the performance of the Iranian government as far as the AIDS [risk] reduction program goes?
A: The [UNODC] Country Program for HIV in Iran is proverbial in the Middle East and the world; it is pragmatic since it has been pieced together based on knowledge and science, and it has the backing of the United Nations. That’s why I can say that Iran has set an example in the world.
Ten years ago when I was on a mission in South Asia, I told Maldivian officials to travel to Iran and learn about its program [about HIV prevention and treatment]. The focus the Iranian government has put on HIV programs is remarkable. The role the Iranian media outlets play in this regard is perfect too. That you [in the media] convey our message to the Iranians shows that dissemination of information plays a key role in Iran.